Geocaching, a Perfect Rural Tourism Attraction

by Joanne Steele on April 15, 2010

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Ever heard of geocaching? In British Columbia its value to rural tourism is well understood.

This charming photo is the headliner of the Shuswap Geo Quest site. Check out the great work they're doing. It's a model for rural tourism geocaching.

The opportunity for getting travelers off the road and into rural communities through a planned use of geocaching is a model for any area.

Shuswap Geo Quest co-ordinator James Gjaltema is helping his area of BC take full advantage of this relatively new family-oriented sport.

For those of you who don’t know about geocaching, it’s a high tech treasure hunt using GPS handheld units to learn the coordinates for the location of the hidden “treasure.” When you find the treasure, you sign the log book and if you like, take a trinket from the cache and leave one of the same or greater value for the next hunter.

These caches, usually small plastic boxes with a log book and a number of trinkets, are left by other geocachers following internationally agreed upon rules regarding hiding on public and private lands. There are over 1 million caches listed at Geocaching.com, the main Internet site for learning about geocaching worldwide.

This thing is big! In my little town of 2300 people, there are a dozen caches listed in our surrounding area.

What makes the Shuswap Geo Quest special?

Using the popularity of geocaching, James is hiding over 250 caches in his area, designed to attract explorer type visitors to the area and keep them longer. He is supporting these efforts with the Shuswap Geo Quest web site, geocaching events and educational activities.

James is careful to honor the spirit of geocaching and not commercialize his caches. He understands that it is about the discovery and fun, not a blatant sales tool.

How are other BC areas using geocaching?

In the Hope BC area, a former gold rush region, geocaching trails have been created. Each of the three trails, part of the “Follow the Yellow Butterfly” project, introduces geocachers to a historic figure who guides them through the various geocaches along each trail.

Participants are guided to historic sites and off the beaten path locations visitors often miss without the additional excitement of this themed exploration.

The fantastic thing for small rural areas is that this type of project requires NO EXPENSIVE DEVELOPMENT! Most caches are small inexpensive plastic containers, and the trinkets in the caches are more about the discovery than the value.

We collected a number of highly prized wooden “coins” at caches in the Shuswap, which we look forward to leaving in caches in other parts of North America, where their rarity will be highly valued by other geocachers.

How you can use geocaching to attract more visitors to your area.

  • Go to geocaching.com and learn about geocaching.
  • Type in your zip code, or town information and learn about where existing caches are located. Practice your geocaching skills by looking for these caches.
  • Add a geocaching section to your visitor web site. Link to your area at Geocaching.com.
  • Create a handout for your visitor information center with the GPS coordinates for your local caches.
  • Ask around until you find your local avid geocachers. Ask them to help you hide more caches in places you’d like to encourage visitors to discover.
  • When you’re ready, collaborate with surrounding towns to create a trail like the BC Follow the Yellow Butterfly trails.

Incidentally, I learned that the “Yellow Butterfly”was used by writer, D.W. Higgins in his book The Mystic Spring to describe the gold rush era drive to find gold. “Thousands came in pursuit of the Golden Butterfly,” he wrote. “But many of its admirers and devotees found it elusive.”

As you all know, my passion is helping rural communities find ways to involve explorer type visitors in local discoveries.

Geocaching is a perfect way to do this. Be sure your caches are on public lands or private places with prior permission and you have a win-win situation for rural tourism.

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