Is Geocaching Sustainable Travel?

Geocaching doesn't sound like it has anything to do with sustainable travel when you first hear about it. Instead, it sounds like glorified littering. Geocachers hide gizmos in urban and rural settings (read: the great outdoors). Whether they leave geotreasure, or geojunk, there's something not right about "stuff" being left outside.  Hidden, outside, at that. However, the geocaching community is actually quite environmentally friendly, and they deserve kudos.

Geocaching was born about a decade ago, in one of the greenest cities around: Portland, Oregon. GPS satellite signals, previously reserved for military use, became available to the public, and the game was instantly born. So, a few adventurers who loved the great outdoors and technology started an advanced treasure hunt. Now, there are geocaches in every state, and more than 2,300 in New York City alone. There are over a million geocaches worldwide.

Families geocache on vacation. Some even go on vacation with the exclusive intention of geocaching. It's an unusual form of sustainable travel, but it's sustainable nonetheless, thanks to the geocaching community. Many geocachers love the environment and, therefore, they take care of it. If a player hides a geocache, he or she must take watch over it; in other words, somebody needs to make sure the logbook isn't vandalized, that it's still in the correct place, and so forth. If nobody can take care of the geocache, it's put up for "adoption" and a new parent can take it over. So, if geocachers cooperate with the rules, things don't get left randomly.

Also, thousands of geocachers around the world participate in Cache In Trash Out, or CITO Events, which are certainly in line with sustainable travel efforts. This Friday, December 17th, there's a CITO in Nordhein-Westfalen, Germany. On December 26th, there's a Christmas CITO being held in Deep River Park, North Carolina. In Villa Real, Portugal, geocachers gathered for a unique CITO: they planted trees in an area that had been ravaged by wildfires. And, of course, they planted a geocache.

Scientists at Colorado State University in Fort Collins are calling on geocachers to help track the spread of invasive species. If geocachers mark noxious weeds on the map, they can help land managers control the growth. Here's another one: in August, two Geocachers Roy Joseph (geocache name: Rojo464) and Paul Fox (Pauleefox) rescued a mother and daughter stranded in the middle of the Eastern Utah desert. They had been there for two days. Fox said: “It is always good to have  story to tell that puts geocaching in such a good light.”

So, geocachers are picking up trash, planting trees, finding invasive weeds, and rescuing stranded people. Sounds like sustainable travel in its most creative form, doesn't it? However, geocachers still need to prove themselves to National Parks around the world, as many of them don't yet permit geocaching.

National Forest Service (NFS) officials are debating the legality of geocaching as you read this. Is it dangerous? Is it equivalent to littering? On the one hand, there's the risk that geocaching will go out of style and the result will be a lot of hidden trash in the wilderness. On the other, perhaps geocaches would encourage more families to experience outdoor adventure in parks. Maybe the geocaching greenies will start encouraging biodegradable and natural geocaches in the forests....?

photo: BDK