Do you like being outdoors? Are you intrigued by the thrill of searching for something hidden? Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity that is fun — and even a bit stealthy.
Hidden somewhere in Green Spring Gardens is a geocache. It was created and placed by Extension Master Gardeners (EMGs) on the Learn, Explore, and Play (LEAP) interpretive team, which creates educational materials and signage for Green Spring Gardens visitors. Searching for the first LEAP geocache takes seekers on a garden tour and teaches basic gardening concepts. By answering specific questions at six waypoints, seekers follow clues that lead them to the general location of the final geocache hiding place. Using stealth, they continue the hunt discreetly — hopefully without the knowledge of bystanders — until they find the elusive treasure.
What is geocaching?
Simply put, it’s a treasure hunt. Geocaching uses satellites to find hidden plastic or metal containers. The word geocache combines the words geo, meaning “earth,” and cache, meaning “a hiding place.” Seekers use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver, usually a cell phone, and other navigational techniques to find hidden containers located at specific geo-coordinates all over the world. The website www.geocaching.com hosts descriptions of geocaches hidden by people at sites worldwide. Those descriptions ensure the hunt follows environmental etiquette while providing details about the size of each container and the difficulty of the terrain surrounding it. Finders log their successful finds in a logbook inside the cache container or online. Sometimes finders leave swag in the container to be carried by future finders to another geocache. Signing up for a basic membership on the Geocaching® web site or app is free.
LEAP’s first geocache, titled “Tour of Green Spring Gardens,” is registered and posted on www.geocaching.com with identifier GC8H58V. The directions take seekers from Green Spring’s composting station to the Discovery, Townhouse, Rock, Arbor, and Edible Gardens while teaching about composting, monarch butterfly migration, and the “right plant, right place” philosophy. Seekers follow clues that reveal the latitude and longitude of the cache’s location. Activated in December 2019, the geocache container included a frog keychain Travel Bug® with a unique tracking number and instructions for the finder to take the bug to other geocache locations and report back on its travels. So far the frog has visited the southeastern United States, traveled west to Colorado, and is making its way back east through Kansas and Ohio.
Despite a problem when the cache mysteriously disappeared and was subsequently replaced in a more robust container, there have been dozens of successful finds by eager sleuths. One finder’s comment, “Thanks for a really fun multi-stage find in this beautiful park,” reflects the satisfaction of many who take on the geocaching challenge at Green Spring Gardens.
LEAP’s second geocache, titled “Green Spring Gardens Tree ID” (GC9ADBQ) was activated in April 2021. This hunt takes seekers on a journey past 10 trees of varying types, each with its own unique bark, leaves or needles, and fruit or seeds. Seekers collect clues to solve a tree-shaped word puzzle, then fill in the letters to answer the question, “What type of tree is most beneficial to the environment and wildlife ecology of Virginia?” Digits associated with the correct answer reveal the latitude and longitude of the cache’s location. The wooden cache container, created by EMG John Snyder, was designed to blend with nature. One seeker commented: “[We] printed out the puzzle and the waypoint descriptions, which made the journey and puzzle even easier to navigate. The family enjoyed seeing the specimens and learning much more about each. It was as if we had our own tour guide.”
Green Spring is also home to a virtual geocache called “A Walk Around Green Spring Gardens Park” (GC7BA2E) not maintained by EMGs. There is no hidden treasure associated with a virtual geocache, but there are waypoints where seekers answer questions and/or take images and then send the results to the cache owner to verify a successful find. This virtual geocache has been active since 2018.
If you have a budding Sherlock in your midst, consider a trip to Green Spring Gardens to hone your detective skills.
Find other fun things to see and do at Green Spring Gardens on the On Your Own web page. For more information about the Green Spring Extension Master Gardener outreach programs and activities for children and adults, visit their Outreach web page.
Author Cindy Marisch is a Green Spring Extension Master Gardener and the site’s Learn, Explore, and Play team co-leader.