Treasure Hunting

Two cars pulled up and out piled a handful of people ranging in age from grandparents to elementary school kids. As they set off toward the woods, I noticed that most of them kids included were intently studying their cellphones and pointing in different directions as they went along. They appeared to be looking for something.

I wondered at their behavior for a few minutes. And then it hit me. Maybe there’s a geocache here at our Goose Creek preserve.

Back at the office, I looked up geocaching, as I wasn’t very familiar with the activity. What I found out is that it’s basically a real-life treasure hunt. Geocaches are containers of various sizes containing, at minimum, a log sheet for finders to sign. Some also contain “swag” trinkets or toys that the finder may take, while leaving something of equal value in its place for the next geocacher to find. The containers are hidden and the GPS coordinates logged and entered on www.geocaching.com with a description of the cache and sometimes hints and clues to its whereabouts.

Geocachers can look up cache locations and use a GPS device to find them, or they can use the smartphone app available from geocaching.com. The coordinates and the app will get you to the general vicinity of the cache, and then you must hunt to find it. Caches are usually camouflaged and are given a rating to show how difficult or challenging they are to find. Once a cache is found, the finder signs the log sheet, places it back in the container and returns the cache to its hiding place for the next geocacher to find.

I perused the interactive map on geocaching.com and found that there are geocaches on at least three CWC preserves. There’s one at the Loomis Goose Creek Lakeshore Wetland Preserve, one at the Dobbins’ Woods Preserve and one at the Chautauqua Lake Outlet Wetland Greenway Preserve. All of this sounded very interesting, so I decided to try my hand at geocaching.

My first hunt took place at the Outlet Preserve. I used the smartphone app to find the cache, and it was accurate and easy to use. After a few minutes of searching, I was excited to find the cache, which contained lots of swag. After examining the contents, taking a few photos and signing the logbook, I put everything back in its hiding place. I then decided to explore the preserve for a little while. Back in the swamp I flushed ducks and geese, had to climb over a few tangles left in the path by a beaver, watched a busy muskrat scamper, swim and dive, and was intrigued by the intricate designs and patterns left on old pieces of bark by beetle larvae.

The next day, I headed to our Goose Creek Preserve to find the geocache hidden there. It was a beautiful day to be outdoors. Before setting out on my hunt, I watched some birds flit around the ponds and took some pictures of a pair of mallards enjoying the sunny day.

Again I pulled out my smartphone and headed into the woods. This cache took a little more searching, but, like the one I’d found the day before, it was also full of fun swag. I signed the log sheet and re-hid the cache. Walking back through the woods I examined a few of the many trees felled by beavers. As I left, I decided to walk along the creek. In the distance, a wood duck hopped up onto a log to get a better look at me. As I got closer, he and his sweetheart flushed. I froze and smiled as I watched them fly away. I took another step, and to my surprise another pair flushed this time only 15 feet away giving me both a heart attack and a fabulous view of these gorgeous birds.

Geocaching on our preserves was a fun activity. Perhaps more importantly, it got me out into the woods on days I might otherwise have crammed full of errands and chores. On both outings, I spent time exploring the preserve because, hey, I was already there, and I got to see and experience things I wouldn’t have otherwise. So give geocaching a try. Bring the whole family out, and spend some time in the woods afterwards. Who knows what you might see.

We’ve put up a page on our website about geocaching on our preserves. Visit chautauquawatershed.org, and click on “Preserves” and then “Geocaching.” I’ve also posted some photos I took on my geocaching outing on our Facebook page at “Chautauqua Watershed.”

I haven’t found the geocache at the Dobbins’ Woods Preserve … yet. Can you beat me to it?

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a private nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region.

To sign up for e-news updates, find out more information on watershed care or to support CWC’s conservation activities, visit chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.