Jennifer Ashman was at Blue Lake Regional Park for a family reunion last summer when she inadvertently began a treasure-hunting adventure. Explaining geocaching to her uncle, Ashman used
a smartphone app to call up the nearest hidden cache. Together they found the capsule and learned it was part of a geocaching challenge spanning two Metro parks and six caches. "I found three that day, then it was getting late and the park was closing," Ashman said. "I went home and told my husband, 'We have to do this!'"
Geocaching is essentially a high-tech treasure hunt: real life hide-and-seeking based out of online communities. As the activity has grown, so has its presence at Metro parks. Geocaching.com, the activity’s largest affiliated website, serves as a forum where users can find coordinates of caches in their area and post their experiences. Hidden caches are usually small containers with a logbook and trade items. Hiders post their cache's coordinates online, and seekers record their names in the cache's logbook and the online forum.
Ashman's whole family got hooked on geocaching in 2010 when her son Levi, then a second grader, discovered it with a friend. "It teaches the kids coordination," Ashman said. "They're seeing the map, they're understanding 100 feet and counting down, they're reading the clues and thinking about it. It's giving them problem-solving ideas. And it gets the family out together. We find new parks and places to go." Ashman, who runs Gracious Hands Preschool in Aloha, journeyed to Oxbow Regional Park to complete Metro’s coin challenge with her husband, their four children and kids from the daycare.
"... it gets the family out together. We find new parks and places to go."
– Jennifer Ashman, Gracious Hands Preschool
The coin challenge, which launched in July, celebrates Oxbow and Blue Lake being open to the public for 50 years. It also provides a fun new outlet for people to engage with Metro's parks. Each cache has a code inside its lid. Geocachers who locate all six head to the park office at Blue Lake, where they receive a fact sheet explaining the significance of the six codes and a commemorative 50th anniversary coin. The challenge will run until all 450 coins have been claimed.
Park ranger Kristina Prosser, who placed the six caches – empty MetroPaint cans decorated by Metro employees – said she chose each location to draw people to a distinctive park feature.
Geocaching in Metro parks is not new. When recreational geocacher and Metro employee Justin Patterson set out to learn how many geocaches were hidden in Metro parks a few years back, he discovered them everywhere. "When Graham Oaks Nature Park opened, there were six within a week," Patterson said.
The popularity should perhaps be expected; our region is the birthplace of geocaching. Beavercreek resident Dave Ulmer hid the first geocache in Clackamas County in May 2000. He posted the coordinates online, and people promptly began to seek it out using their own GPS devices.
Realizing the growing interest, Metro created a set of guidelines and an online presence. The regional government now keeps tabs on the treasures tucked throughout its pockets of wilderness. "We welcome them as long as they're not damaging park property," Patterson said. "It gets people out in the parks and enjoying the nature we have to offer."