It's the Boy Scout motto: Always be prepared. So when Alan Magnuson, assistant scout master with Worthington's Troop 123 took his young charges on a spring campout three years ago, he was, as the motto says, prepared.

It's the Boy Scout motto: Always be prepared. So when Alan Magnuson, assistant scout master with Worthington's Troop 123 took his young charges on a spring campout three years ago, he was, as the motto says, prepared.

But he didn't know that a wind whipping across Kaiser Lake would blow away the program materials, or that the temperamental weather would give the scouts a 45-degree, rainy day. He did know, however, that a geocache—a secret "treasure"—was located within a quarter mile of their campsite.

Looking at his beleaguered scouts, Magnuson asked, "How about buried treasure?" Soon the boys found themselves walking through the woods in search of the secret cache. With the help of a global positioning system (GPS), they soon found what they were looking for: a peanut butter jar covered in camouflage tape filled with Cracker Jack toys.

"They thought that was just neat," Magnuson said. Since that first geocaching experience with the scouts, Magnuson has found ways to incorporate geocaching into outdoor activities. "You arrange the hike so that it passes near one of these things."

Rachel Simon, educational technology consultant with Instructional Technology Services of Central Ohio (ITSCO), developed a course teaching newcomers how to use GPS navigation systems to search for caches. To get started, Simon advises newcomers to invest in a handheld GPS unit, which can cost about $100 or more.

The GPS unit uses a network of satellites to calculate a user's position or coordinates. A variety of websites, such as geocaching.com, provides coordinates for caches by zip code. By entering the coordinates of a cache location into the GPS unit, users then know the general location of the secret stash. "It can help you get to that point," Simon said. "It's one of those things that sounds deceptively simple."

Once in the area of the cache, the search is on. Caches can be within a few feet of the pinpointed location, or a few yards away. They are typically hidden from view to keep "muggles," or outsiders, from accidentally discovering the cache. "Most [caches] are going to have some kind of log book and things that people collect as well," Simon says.

For about a year, David Van Winkle and his children, Brier, 6, and Ashlynn, 8, have collected a variety of items from caches, including a New Testament Bible in Alabama. "They enjoy the find, even when it's something small that doesn't have a toy in it," Van Winkle said. The Van Winkles, of Tipp City, started geocaching near their hometown, but soon expanded to other areas, including Columbus and the Hocking Hills. "We enjoy different areas," he said.

As proper geocaching etiquette dictates, Van Winkle and his children always leave a trinket in the cache if they take one out. Otherwise, they may sign the log book: "took nothing, left nothing."

Some caches can even be found while driving to a destination. "Most rest areas have a geocache area somewhere, normally back on the pet walks," he says. "It's not one of those things that you have to do in the woods," Simon says. "You can do it in the city, too."

Geocaching sites typically list terrain and degree of difficulty levels for each cache. "They are literally all over the place," Magnuson said. So, even if you are not on a camp out with a scout group, you might find a cache hidden in your neighborhood park. Either way, Magnuson said, "It's a good excuse for a walk."



Amber Stephens is a Columbus-area freelance writer and editor. Author of the book, Kissing in Columbus, she is also the mother of two young children.