All the World Is a Game

Explore your world, learn about history and find hidden treasure through geocaching.
by Lee Katz, Mid-Illini Geocachers
Lee Katz
Lee Katz stands atop an abandoned train bridge in Kewanee—an example of the remote, historic places geocaching takes him.

I am a geocacher, one of more than seven million worldwide. What is geocaching, you ask? It’s the recreational activity of hunting for and finding hidden objects by means of GPS coordinates posted on a website. It is considered a game by some, a hobby to others, and a sport to the more competitive. It’s free to join—and a fun way to explore the world around you.

Getting Started
There are currently more than 960 geocaches within the City of Peoria alone, just waiting to be discovered. Each is assigned a difficulty and terrain level, giving geocachers an idea of what they are in for while hunting that particular geocache. The higher the number, the harder the difficulty or harsher the terrain. 

In the urban parts of Peoria, you’ll find primarily small containers, also known as “bison tubes,” which contain a simple paper log to be signed by the finder. But the further out in the country you venture, the containers can get bigger. In some cases, the geocache will be filled with kid-friendly, tradable items such as plastic bugs, dinosaurs, rings and the like, but nothing valuable should be left there. Once you sign the log and trade the items (if applicable), you replace the container as you found it. 

Geocaches can be found all over the world. They can take you to remote areas and places you may have never been—or even known they were there. Besides finding a cache for the sole purpose of the find itself (“traditional caches”), some caches are placed for a reason. That reason could be educational (“earth caches“), intellectual (“mystery caches”), or more of a scavenger-hunt style (“multicaches”).

Today, more people are using their smartphones with various geocaching apps installed, rather than a GPS receiver (GPSr). This allows the geocacher to do “on-the-fly” geocaching, using their phones to update their location and finds in real time, rather than having to download and update a GPSr.

Currently, there are three active geocaching organizations in this region: Peoria Area Cachers (PAC), Mid-Illini Geocachers (MIG) and the Central Illinois Geocachers Association (CIGA). PAC and MIG are based in the Greater Peoria area, while CIGA encompasses a host of towns between I-80 and I-70. All of these groups are ready to assist new geocachers in getting to know the game. Each has a web presence as well, and there are many YouTube videos dedicated to teaching people about geocaching.

The Wren family on a geocaching adventure.
The Wren family on a geocaching adventure. 

Hidden History & Geotours
I began setting out geocaches with an educational purpose. My “Hidden History Series” is currently comprised of 32 geocaches hidden around the Peoria area, from Washington to Bartonville. Peoria is full of history and is always changing. In making those changes, some landmarks and pivotal buildings have fallen through the cracks. It is my pleasure to bring these historical places back into the light, even if the structures are gone. Some examples of caches in this series include Old OSF House, Peoria High School, Lost Realms of Glen Oak 2, Al Fresco Park and Peoria State Hospital.

Some states and regions offer what is called a GeoTour, which is similar to a series (like the Hidden History Series), but is sponsored by a Visitors Bureau, Chamber of Commerce or the like. GeoTours can enhance tourism efforts for that particular town or region, but their creation is cost-prohibitive for a single individual, so sponsorship is necessary. 

The Butler County Visitors Bureau in Ohio, for example, sponsors the “Butler County Donut Trail GeoTour,” which covers multiple towns and more than 15 geocaches. Last year when I participated in this event, 12,000 other geocachers had traveled from as far away as the Netherlands—quite a shot in the arm for the local economy over the Memorial Day weekend. 

Choose Your Own Adventure
Often times, passersby will observe someone intensely looking into a bush or seeming to be out of sorts with their surroundings. It’s not that they’re mad or lost, they are simply geocaching. 

If you love the outdoors and would like to try geocaching, visit geocaching.com to sign up for a free account. Once you have an account, feel free to contact PAC, MIG or CIGA to help you get started—or just set out on your own adventure. PM

Lee Katz is co-founder of Mid-Illini Geocachers. Find them on Facebook at facebook.com/groups/MidIlliniGeocachers.

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