Nature will go virtual Saturday at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Earth Day celebration.
Every hour from 11:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m., a representative from the George A. Smathers Map and Imagery Library will lead visitors on a treasure hunt at UF’s Cultural Plaza.
Visitors will be given GPS devices and the opportunity to see Gainesville through a new perspective with geocaching. Geocaching is a worldwide outdoor adventure where participants use a GPS to uncover hidden containers.
“It’s a modern-day treasure hunt,” museum educator Tiffany Ireland said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
Eric Schudiske, geocaching.com public relations and social media manager, said community members hide a container with random items at precise coordinates and then challenge people to find it through the Geocaching app.
Geocaching started 15 years ago and quickly spread around the world, he said. There are 2.6 million caches hidden in more than 185 countries, and Florida is one of the top five states for geocaching with more than 15,000 caches hidden throughout the state.
“It’s a digital-age version of hide-and-seek,” Schudiske said.
People who hide caches must live close enough to the hiding spot to maintain them, he said. A group of volunteers in the community verify the location of the cache, and then it is posted online at geocaching.com with coordinates, a description and level of difficulty.
Each geocache is rated by difficulty on a 1-5 scale. Beginner caches are easier to find, and the terrain is easier to conquer, he said.
“So much of the joy is the journey to discover it,” Schudiske said.
Inside the container, if it’s large enough, there will at least be a logbook to sign, he said. Large caches contain prizes.
Ireland said the geocaching walks at the Earth Day celebration will be led by the UF Map and Imagery Library, which is located in Smathers Library.
The library houses 11 GPS devices available to students and faculty for checkout. In addition to other caches hidden in the area, the museum has three educational Earth caches for participants to find.
Gaby Quevedo, a 21-year-old economics junior, said she has found Mardi Gras beads, Koozies, a poem and stickers while geocaching in Gainesville.
“Although the humidity and mosquitoes were relentless, it was so much fun, and it felt pretty intense venturing into random corners off the path to find the cache,” Quevedo said.
Schudiske said geocaching pushes people to get outside and explore while connecting as a global society.
“In today’s society, a lot of people go from their garage to parking garage at work, and that’s their day,” he said. “Geocaching gives people a reason to get outside and discover their town in a new way.”
[A version of this story ran on page 5 on 4/17/2015 under the headline “Smathers to host geocaching hunt”]