By Alex Lippa
---- — When Melissa Theburge and her family go somewhere new, there’s always one thing they check first.
“We have to see if there are any geocaches around,” the Plaistow resident said. “My whole family loves it.”
Geocaching is an interactive treasure hunt in which people look for hidden items by using coordinates from a GPS.
Someone will hide an item and post it on the website with the coordinates, then anyone is free to look for it once is posted. There are more than 2 million geocaches hidden worldwide, with more than 9,000 hidden in New Hampshire.
The first geocache in New Hampshire was hidden by Michael Noetzel in Mine Falls Park in Nashua. Noetzel originally hails from Salem, but has been all over in his search for geocaches.
“They’re in Nevada, they’re in Washington, D.C, anywhere people go, they can be around,” Noetzel said.
Charlie Backman of Hampstead said it’s a fun way to get his kids to be active.
“I like to call it a combination of exercise and treasure island,” he said.
The items can be anything. They can be as tiny as a magnet or a bigger prize like jewelry, tools or antiques.
“A lot are very out in the open and easier to find, but others are hidden really good to make it a more vicious find,” Noetzel said.
The items can sometimes be located near a book, which allows finders to log that they have found the cache. There is also a virtual call book online with each cache, so anyone can track how often the cache has been found.
There are also caches known as trackbugs. Users will hide a cache somewhere with the intention being that the next person who finds it must hide it in a different location.
“My three daughters love tracking where theirs have gone,” Theburge said. “One of my daughter’s bugs is in Egypt. Another one has one that’s been all along the West Coast and is now in Oregon. Unfortunately, mine seems to be lost.”
Geocaching has taken off locally as well. After reading about it in a magazine, Patty Falconer, Hampstead Public Library’s youth services director, hosted a program at the library last week for middle-schoolers.
“None of them had ever done it before,” Falconer said. “It seemed like a good idea for a fun activity.”
About a dozen kids turned out for the program. They created their own objects, created the cache online and hid them in the area behind the library.
“It was a fun time,” said Evan Emerson, 11, of Hampstead. “I like scavenger hunts and looking for hidden things.”
For Noetzel, it’s more than just a fun activity. A few months ago, as he approached his 5,000th geocache, he planned a special vacation.
“Me and another cacher went to South America for a geocaching adventure,” he said. “We went 5,000 miles away for my 5,000th cache on my 50th birthday. That was really cool. We saw a waterfall about four times the size of Niagara Falls in Argentina, which we would have never even thought to see.”
But you don’t have to travel long distances to find a geocache.
“There are so many places to go right here in New Hampshire,” Theburge said. “We get emails anytime a new one is hidden within 10 miles of our home. Our challenge is to be the first to find it, but somehow we almost always get beaten.”
All active caches can be found on the website geocaching.com. Users can communicate with fellow cachers and also give hints to those having trouble finding caches.