By Alicia Blaisdell-Bannon
If you think buried loot and treasure hunts are solely in the realm of parrots, peg legs and pirates, think again, matey.
Geocaching and its lower-tech relative, letterboxing, both feature maps, clues and hidden surprises – and usually right here on terra firma. Both are fun activities to get you and the kiddos outdoors and working together in some of New England’s loveliest places.
In geocaching, you use a GPS device to travel to coordinates found on listing sites. (see geocaching.com) When you get to the coordinates, you follow clues (or just hunt around) to find the “cache”: a waterproof box with a log book, pen or pencil and sometimes small trinkets. You sign the book with your code name, swap the trinket for something similar you have brought (buttons, rings, little toys) and put it back where you found it. Then you log the find in your own book.
In letterboxing, clues are distributed in printed catalogs and web sites (see letterboxing.org). All you need is your natural-born smarts, a few trinkets to give away and an ink-stamp of some kind. When you figure out the right location (under a rock, in the hollow of a tree, taped to the underside of a bench), you’ll find a waterproof box with a log book, ink pad, stamp and trinkets. Stamp the book with your stamp, use their stamp in your book, and swap trinkets.
Although geocaching and letterboxing sites can be found all over, you might consider starting this summer and fall at one of New England’s state parks and forests. Find state park locations and descriptions for Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Many of them have geocaches and letterboxes. You can find more information by going to their websites.
In Connecticut, for example, Meshomasic State Forest is one of several parklands in the state with a letterboxing program. The beginning of a typical clue: “The letterbox lies in the heart of the forest near the ‘Big Pines’ plantation. The trees – white pines and Norway spruce – are over a century old.”
In Maine, find eight geocaches as you explore Maine’s spectacular state parks and historic sites. From historic forts to our deepest wilderness, the Maine State Parks GeoTour offers something for everyone! Caches are seasonally available mid-May through September. The geocaching page on the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands website tells you everything you need to get started. Note that geocaching is done in only eight specific state parks.
Many Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Massachusetts state parks all have either letterbox or geocache sites or both.
It’s a fun way to learn about the region’s history, both natural and manmade, and to activate those puzzle-solving cells.