By Tom Joyce
July 18, 2013
McKenzie Lamb became excited Wednesday when she found hidden “treasure” in Mount Airy after a frantic search by her and some other youths.
It wasn’t gold or jewels they were after, but a small container known as a geocache, which the group had tracked down using a hand-held GPS (global positioning system) device that resembled a cell phone.
Their search wasn’t that easy, on a hot morning along the Emily B. Taylor Greenway. The first step involved entering coordinates for the geocache into the device.
Aided by clues flashing onto the screen, they followed an arrow on the GPS unit to the approximate site where a small container had been hidden just off the trail near Creekside Cinema — about a quarter-mile from their starting point.
As the kids, who are part of the Reeves Community Center summer program, approached the geocache concealed near a light fixture, beeps came from the device and it vibrated to show they were extremely close.
McKenzie was actually the first to put her hands on the small container that was the object of their quest, and then was unsure whether it was the coveted geocache.
But this was confirmed by Matt Edwards, executive director of Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, who knew the location of the geocache due to the museum being involved in the project. He then showed the youths how to tap into a wealth of information related to their find, and sign a logbook inside to record the achievement.
As it turned out, the site was across Lovills Creek from an old railroad depot, with the GPS device then displaying information about Mount Airy’s train history to the youths.
And it was mission complete on the first day of a new TRACK Trail history and fitness program at the Emily B. Taylor Greenway, for which a dedication/ribbon-cutting ceremony was held just before the kids began their search. The geocaching addition to the local trail also is serving as a pilot program for what could be a nationwide effort, “that this is kind of a launch point for,” Edwards explained.
Keeping Kids Active
Wednesday’s ceremony came on the heels of the greenway recently being selected for inclusion in a geocaching network, the Kids in Parks TRACK Trail program operated through the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation. More than 20 youth-friendly hiking trails have been designated in regions surrounding the scenic highway as part of a growing network.
Such facilities have a dual purpose, according to Elise Kahl, program manager for Kids in Parks, who spoke at Wednesday’s event attended by about 80 people.
“To get the kids outside and active,” Kahl told the gathering made up of city recreation and other leaders, and youth groups including the summer camp participants from Reeves Community Center and Boy and Girl Scouts.
“They all provide self-guiding activities that help you be active outside,” Kahl added of the special trails. As is the case with the TRACK Trail designation for the Emily B. Taylor Greenway, this allows opportunities for participants to learn about culture and nature — and get some exercise.
Partnering with the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation on the local program, which also involves geocaching sites along the Ararat River Greenway, are the local museum, Reeves Community Center, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation and the North Carolina Humanities Council.
The common thread among TRACK trails is the use of geocaching, which has become a computer era fad. Geocaching relies on latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates and the presence of satellites to pinpoint the exact locations they represent.
Edwards, the museum official, said this has evolved into kind of a scavenger-hunt hobby built around the challenge of finding objects (geocache containers) hidden in various locations. There are now more than 2 million geocaches worldwide.
“What we added to it was the educational component,” Edwards said of the museum’s involvement. Its participation in the geocaching program along the Emily B. Taylor Greenway is part of a goal of getting people to learn about history outside museums, he said.
Rather than reading about local history, geocaching allows participants to see “where it happened,” Edwards said.
Along with Mount Airy’s railroad heritage, another of the four geocache stations on the greenway, which is 3.5 miles round trip, is dedicated to the former Proctor Silex toaster plant along Lovills Creek where an Indian burial ground also was discovered.
The others highlight Veterans Memorial Park and trees along the greenway which supplied Mount Airy’s furniture industry in its heyday.
About two dozen more sites will be added around the region as part of the larger effort, Edwards said.
“We are real excited about this program.”
How To Participate
The geocaching experience requires either a GPS device or a smartphone equipped with a geocache app (application). Those lacking GPS devices can rent them for $5 per day from the museum or community center, which have 30 on hand.
Participants then go to a kiosk located on the greenway behind Thai Cafe, the site of Wednesday’s dedication ceremony, where materials including brochures are kept to aid the search.
They then simply enter the GPS coordinates listed for the various geocache sites and begin the search. In addition to signing a logbook to indicate that they have been there, trail users can enter a code to access information and photographs about each location which are kept in a database.
Kahl, the Kids in Parks official, said there’s an incentive involved for youths besides the fun.
“For every trail that you track, you get a free prize,” she said. These include patches, magnifying glasses and more.
“There is essentially an endless amount of prizes you can earn over time.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.