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Health, Science, Environment

Geo caching with the eagles

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 5, 2009 - The Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau is putting a new twist on that pastime that's become a winter tradition in the St. Louis area: eagle watching.

Thanks to the CVB, eagle watchers can use their GPS units to find geo cached treasures with an eagle slant in a new sport called eagle-caching.

What is geocaching

Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. 

-- www.geocaching.com/

With coordinates spelled out in the CVB's Eagle Watcher's Guide, visitors can zero in on caches that hold things such as eagle tattoos, souvenir magnets and small eagle fact sheets. Anyone with a GPS unit can join the fun. If you don't have one, rentals are available for $5 for the day at the CVB. Arrive at the Visitors Center at 200 Piasa Street in Alton early if you want to rent one, as the number of units is limited.

The CVB developed the idea to team eagle watching with geo caching after learning that a geo caching group placed caches in the area.

"Last eagle season, we started poking around a bit and noticed there were a couple of caches not far from our office," Suzanne Holbrook, spokesperson for the Alton Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. The caches had been found more than 250 times, she said. When Holbrook learned that someone from Maryland signed the logbook the day she visited the cache and a New Jersey resident signed it the day before, she said, "We've got to check out this geo caching thing."

She liked what she found. "We thought, 'You know what? This would be something fun that would introduce people to geo caching and allow them to spend a little bit more time in what we consider the eagle-watching hotspots.'"

Holbrook is hoping the geo caches will take eagle-watchers out of their vehicles to explore some of the nature areas nearby.

"Especially for families trying to do this, it's hard to keep the kids in the car the whole time," she said. "So, this is a reason to do a little bit of eagle watching and then step out of the car to stretch your legs and see if you can find one of these caches."

Even if you don't have kids, but you do have a GPS, eagle-watching geo caches give you something different to do with it.

"People get a lot of GPS units for Christmas," Holbrook said. "There are other things you can do with the besides get to and from someone's house or a destination. We thought this would be kind of fun."

If you have trouble finding the cache, encrypted clues in the guide (there's a decryption key in the guide, too) give hints for each location.

"You have a clue that kind of helps you out to find the exact hiding space." Holbrook said. "They (the caches) are not so difficult that they're impossible to find."

Kathie Sutin is a freelance writer.

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