From the Bloomington IN Herald-Times:
Regulating treasurers in the wild: State enforcing more strict rules with geocaching
By Ben Simmonsbsimmons@heraldt.com
March 17, 2013
Mankind may have already charted every acre of land and sea, but to some Hoosiers, the Age of Exploration is still alive and well.
Centuries after Columbus first sighted the New World, a growing group of discovery-minded locals has taken to a game based around state-of-the-art technology to satiate its appetite for cartography.
The rising hobby, geocaching, in which participants use satellite coordinates to locate hidden treasures, has gathered steam locally as a popular pastime in recent years.
So much steam, in fact, that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources began to enforce stricter regulations for the activity last fall — regulations that some believe may strip the game of its allure.
Under new state policy, caches cannot be placed more than 25 feet away from developed roads or trails on public lands. The reform, aimed at streamlining the game’s licensing process and protecting state lands from further erosion, may also present an existential threat to remote caches that are visited only a few times a year.
In light of increasing interest in the activity, though, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources sought to update and enforce a set of largely unobserved rules that were in place before last September.
Given free rein prior to the policy change, geocachers saw their playing field shrink significantly when the current policies took effect. Ginger Murphy, assistant director for stewardship for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks and Reservoirs, explained the impetus behind the switch.
“The intent of (keeping caches close to roads and trails) is to protect sensitive natural and cultural areas,” Murphy said. “On public land, caches were being placed without licensing or telling any of the management staff at the property who are responsible for safety, security, and natural and cultural resource management.”
According to Murphy, the changes were made at the urging of a group of geocachers who were concerned about the ambiguity of statewide rules. The Indiana geocaching community was far from united in its support of the new procedures, however.
For Stu Baggerly, one of Monroe County’s most avid geocachers, the hobby represents more than a chance for an excursion into the wilderness.
It’s also an outlet for creative expression; under the moniker “monstercatambush,” Baggerly has meticulously constructed, placed and even refurbished numerous caches throughout southern Indiana.
But as the activity flourished, anxiety has surfaced about the environmental effect of his and others’ creations. Despite the earth-friendly creed of the geocaching community, which is guided by the “Cache In Trash Out” mantra, the DNR was unable to monitor the activity without a comprehensive licensing process.
“Some people were miffed about the regulations suddenly being enforced,” Baggerly said. “Everyone was happy with the loosey-goosey relationship they had, so it came as a surprise that the regulations were suddenly being enforced.”
When news of the rule changes reached Baggerly last fall, he initially counted himself among the disgruntled, as he thought he stood to lose all but about 20 of the 172 caches he maintained.
As it turns out, the opposite was true: Only 20 are ineligible under the new constraints.
Crucially, Baggerly said, the majority of his most inventive contributions — the “good ones,” as he calls them — will be allowed to remain.
“When automobiles came out, there were no regulations,” Baggerly said. “Now there are road signs, and you’ve got to have a license and registration. This was kind of like that. Geocaching is getting much more popular, so I understand that there have to be more restrictions in place.”
Traumatic or not, the new rules have undoubtedly ushered in a new era of geocaching protocol in Indiana. The grace period for old caches that took place in November and December has now ended. Some caches were denied or removed because they were placed in areas outside the new requirements.
Most significantly, though existing caches were all archived at Groundspeak, which oversees geocaching.com, they must now be relicensed.
“We worked comprehensively to ensure that people who wanted to keep their previously placed caches active could do so,” said Murphy, who believes all applications have been processed. “We continue to invite people to place caches until the limits for the property acreage are reached.”
As a result of the efforts of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources and geocachers alike, between 150 and 200 caches have been approved for licensing since last fall, Murphy said.
However, the aforementioned limit — 50 for lands of 10,000 acres and more — has yet to be reached in any of the state parks, reservoirs, or forests.
Once fearful of their consequences, Baggerly is now beginning to embrace the present rules and respect the difficulty inherent to the Indiana DNR’s task — striking a balance between leisure and protection of nature.
“I think a good analogy is that we’re in a relationship, and we’ve been on one awkward date,” Baggerly said. “Are we going to break up? No. This will pass; there was a brief lull, but we’re all going to get along.”
More about geocaching
Geocaching is done using a GPS, or global positioning satellite unit, to find a container that has a logbook and possibly tokens inside. There are often clues to find the cache, as they are called. The website to discover more is www.geocaching.com.
Two area clubs
If you are interested in geocaching in the Bloomington area, you might want to join the Bloomington Geocaching Club. For more on the club, go to www.bloomingtongeocaching.com/. The group, Bloomington Geocaching, also has a Facebook page.
There’s also a geocaching club at Indiana University. The website for more information is www.indiana.edu/~geocache/. Information on the site says there are more than 500 geocachers in Bloomington and 45 geocaches on the IU campus in Bloomington.