The North Shore mountain trails are not just popular among hikers, dog walkers and mountain bikers. They are also a hot spot for treasure hunters.
Hidden in tree hollows, under rocks and between protruding roots are dozens of geocaches: small, waterproof containers that hold, at the very least, a logbook for finders to sign and date. Many larger geocaches also contain inexpensive trinkets for trading.
Geocachers, as the finders are called, use GPS co-ordinates to hide and seek these containers, which are located all over the world.
I picked up the quirky hobby this summer, looking to turn my aimless woodland strolls into goal-oriented adventures. So far, I've had the thrill of uncovering a small handful of these tricky-to-find treasures.
On a recent sunny lunch break, I decided to track down one of North Vancouver's urban geocaches. There are several popular geocaching websites where users can view maps and look up GPS co-ordinates. I use geocaching.com. Here, I find the co-ordinates for a geocache that looks to be located near 14th Street and Lonsdale Avenue. According to the online write-up, it's been hidden by the North Vancouver Arts Office and is one in a series of geocaches placed near public artworks on the North Shore. I write down the co-ordinates, grab my smartphone, which has a free GPS application, and head out the door.
The numbers quickly lead me to the public plaza outside the North Vancouver RCMP detachment. I feel a little suspicious rummaging around in the bushes outside a police station, but take comfort in the fact that many geocachers have likely been here before me. I won't give away exactly where I located the geocache, in case readers want to find it for themselves, but let's just say no bushwhacking or digging is required.
"Official geocache" is written in permanent marker on the lid of the grey, plastic container I find. Inside are a few plastic toys (I didn't bring anything to trade, so I don't take anything). Inside a Ziploc baggie is a piece of paper where previous finders have logged the date they found the geocache. I pencil in my name, replace the box exactly where I found it and head back to the office with a sense of satisfaction.
People can also log their finds online, where they can leave comments and report problems to the original hider, such as vandalism, a wet log book, or even a suspected missing geocache.
In April, Metro Vancouver responded to the growing popularity of geocaching and approved a Regional Parks Geocaching Policy. The regional authority permits the hobby in parks, because it encourages outdoor recreation, as long as the activity does not negatively impact the environment.
Here are a few of Metro Vancouver's geocaching rules: ¦ Caches must not contain food items or any other materials that may attract wildlife. ¦ Caches must be accessible from trails (i.e. can be reached while still standing on trail surface), approved travel routes or other public areas (e.g. picnic areas).
¦ Cache placement must not result in the disturbance of soils, vegetation, wildlife, wildlife structures (e.g. dens, wildlife trees, nesting areas) or natural, sensitive or cultural heritage sites and features.
¦ Caches must not be placed in areas that may put participants or other visitors at increased risk of injury (e.g. cliffs, unstable ground, in close proximity to unstable trees, areas subject to seasonal or flash flooding or traditional bear feeding areas).
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