Selecting a Location for Your Own Geocache

Just like in real estate or retail sales, location is everything when it comes to placing a geocache. After you select a container, figure out where to put it — or sometimes you find a perfect hiding place and then select an appropriate container to go with it. The location of your cache usually defines its success and popularity. Take a look at some hiding place considerations.

Where to hide your cache

Start out by doing some initial research to find a good, general area to hide your cache. For many geocachers, visiting a new place with some unique feature, incredible scenery, or just a plain gorgeous view is every bit as important as finding the cache. Keep this in mind as you use maps, travel guides, or fond memories from your own explorations to help you select a good cache location.

An important part of your homework is learning where caches are and are not permitted. The majority of the geocaching community tends to be very aware that the continued growth and success of the sport depend on good relationships with landowners and managers.

If you want to place a cache on private property, always first ask the owner's permission. Because geocaching is so new, many people don't know what it is, so take the time to explain how the sport works.

Most geocaches are placed on federal, state, county, or municipal public land. However, just because it's public doesn't necessarily mean that placing a geocache is permitted.

Always try to verify that the agency that manages the land allows geocaching. You can contact the agency directly, try a Google search to see whether its geocaching policies are published on the Web, or talk with other geocachers in your area to get their experiences in dealing with different agencies. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recognizes geocaching as a recreational activity and tends to be friendly toward cache hiders who want to locate a cache in places other than wilderness or wilderness study areas. The U.S. National Park Service, on the other hand, prohibits placing geocaches on the land that it manages; if you're caught hiding a cache on such land, it's a federal offense. Yipes!

Many of the problems that geocachers have had with public land managers stem from a lack of education on the government employee's part about geocaching. It's worthwhile to educate land managers about the sport so they clearly understand the impacts and can make informed and wise decisions on whether to allow geocaching. Although some people in the geocaching community ardently believe they should have a Constitutional right to hide and find caches, a little more middle-of-the-road approach is useful when dealing with land managers.

Where not to hide your cache

There are definitely some places you don't want to hide your cache. To be listed in the Geocaching.com database, your cache needs to meet certain, common-sense criteria. Generally a cache can't be

  • Buried: Covering it with branches, leaves, or rocks is okay, but no digging, please.
  • Placed in environmentally sensitive areas: This includes areas with endangered plants and animals as well as archaeological and historic sites. Some things that can clue you in to an area possibly being environmentally sensitive include

• Waterholes

• Wetlands

• Guano- (bat or bird excrement) stained rock outcrops

• Areas where soil and vegetation will be significantly impacted by trampling

• Any place where human activity will distress wildlife. (If a large bird is screaming at you, that's a big hint.)

    Land management agencies might not publicly identify sensitive environmental areas on the Internet or on paper maps because it's an open invitation to poachers and vandals (who tend to ruin things for the rest of us). However, usually by applying common sense and observing your surroundings, you can tell whether an area is sensitive, regardless of whether it's marked as such or not.
  • Placed in national parks or designated wilderness areas: This is a no-no. Sorry; them's the rules.
  • Placed within 150 feet of railroad tracks: This is for safety reasons as well as some legal ones.
  • Placed anywhere that might cause concerns about possible terrorist activities: Use your post-9/11 brain. No-no areas include near airports, tunnels, bridges, military facilities, municipal water supplies, and government buildings. Remember, when it comes to certain things, the authorities tend not to have a very good sense of humor.
  • Placed within one-tenth of a mile of another cache: This is a rule for adding a cache to the Geocaching.com database as well as simple geocaching etiquette.

The geocaching community tends to police itself fairly well. If you try to bend the rules and put a cache where it shouldn't be, someone will probably let the Geocaching.com administrators know about it, and the cache will be removed from the database.

Hiding for seekers

After you select a good general location to put the geocache (forest, park, beach, and so forth), look around to find the perfect place to hide the cache. The simple rule for a hiding place is that the cache shouldn't be easily visible to a passerby who's not looking for the cache. Use your creativity to find a challenging hiding place: in a tree hollow, underneath bushes, wedged in rocks, and so on. Remember: The more experience you have finding caches, the more ideas you'll have for good hiding places of your own.

When you hide the cache, always watch out for Muggles (non-geocachers) in the area. Be stealthy so your cache isn't discovered before you get a chance to submit it to the Geocaching.com database.

Recording the location

After you locate that perfect, secret hiding spot, you need to determine the cache's location coordinates as precisely as possible. This can be challenging because of less-than-perfect satellite coverage. You might find the location's coordinates changing on your GPS receiver every few seconds. Many GPS units have an averaging feature that compares coordinates at a single spot over a period of time and then averages the result. If your receiver does do averaging, get it as close to the cache as possible, let it sit for five or ten minutes, and then copy down the cache coordinates and enter them as a waypoint.

A manual approach to averaging is to set a waypoint for the cache location, walk away, and then come back and set another waypoint. Repeat this until you have 6-12 waypoints; then examine the list of waypoints, and pick the one that looks the most accurate (generally, the value in the middle of the list).

During certain times of the day, you might have better satellite coverage than others. This is because of the number of satellites that are in view and the position of a single satellite relative to your GPS receiver and the other satellites in the constellation. If you want to get really precise with recording your cache coordinates, select a time of the day with optimal satellite coverage. Trimble Navigation, one of the largest manufacturers of commercial and professional GPS receivers, has a free Windows program called Planning, designed for surveyors who need to know when the best time is to use GPS surveying instruments.

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