Are geocaches at historic sites a good idea? Maybe, maybe not.
On the one hand, being a strong believer in the importance of learning about history, I think bringing visitors to historic sites in any way, shape or form is a good thing, at least for sites with an education/outreach mandate. Geocachers are by nature explorers and learners, and how cool would it be to follow a trail of caches that traces Paul Revere’s ride or the route of slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad? (If these exist, please let me know!) A code of conduct among geocachers helps ensure sites are left as they are found, so impact would be minimal.
We followed a trail of caches placed along the historic Farmer’s Ditch in Boulder, Colorado, this summer and used it to explain about irrigation, water rights, and a host of subjects to our young cachers. A great experience for all.
However, I can easily see why resource managers would not want the general public crawling around delicate sites looking for the prize. Years ago, the USGS removed the “archeological site” labels from its topo maps in order to protect the sites, and GIS systems often hide that information from the public for the same reason. Geocaches are also not permitted on US National Parkland.
In Bhutan this spring, we found several geocaches, including one at a mani wall and one in a stupa, i.e. sites that were not only historic but sacred as well. Our guide and driver were intrigued by the concept and joined our “treasure hunts” with great gusto. Nonetheless, I got a slight sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach the day we searched along the backside of a temple. It seemed wrong somehow to disturb something sacred. And that’s what got me thinking about this post.
Maybe the best thing is to encourage independent geocachers to share historic sites with the world but place their caches just outside the site or near interpretive panels. Earth Caches, where you prove you were on the spot with a photo or by answering a question rather than finding a physical cache, could be another option.
What do you think?
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