Imagine a program where young and old alike could use the latest technology, have fun, find prizes and learn about local history at the same time.
Thanks to a grant or two, that program will soon be a reality, according to Matt Edwards, director of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
Edwards said a $5,000 grant through the Blue Cross/Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina will be used to implement a geocaching program in Mount Airy and Surry County.
For the uninitiated, geocaching is a real-world outdoor treasure hunt where participants using a smart phone or hand-held GPS unit to locate hidden containers, or geocaches. The containers often contain small prizes that are routinely taken and replaced with a prize left by the last person to locate the container.
But Edwards said he hopes the local program will be educational as well as fun.
“This program, for us, is going to be a way to try and incorporate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) technology into our education and outreach program using readily-avauilable resources,” Edwards said.
The grant funding will be used to purchase 25 hand-held GPS units that can be checked out and used during the hunt.
“It will allow us to open up our geocaching program to a larger pool of people,” Edwards said. “We want young and old alike in the community to use them and go out and explore the geocaching trail systems we’re creating.”
The program will be completed in a couple of phases, with the first phase opening in the spring.
“In March, we’ll open the first phase that will have a series of caches along both the Emily B. Taylor and Ararat River greenways,” Edwards said. “Those caches are part of a national pilot program for the Kids in Parks initiative designed to get children outside and exploring.”
The second phase of the system, funded by the North Carolina Humanities Council, will add about two dozen caches throughout the region.
Edwards said he hopes the project will take off locally.
“Geocaching is a fast-growing family activity that encourages people to get out and explore their surroundings,” he said. “Part of the challenge is to find the caches without getting ‘caught.’ Geocachers want to keep their activities secret, and that can be challenging due to the location and placement of the caches.”
Under the museum program, the caches will not only hold prizes, but information as well.
“In the case of this initiative, we’re providing computer codes that can be scanned with a smart phone and will have a link to interpretative material that will educate the person who scans it about the location,” Edwards said. “They’ll find the cache, scan the code and go immediately to a website that teaches them why that specific location is historically important.”
The museum director said he is hopeful educational groups, youth groups, church groups or any other group in the community will take advantage of the fun, challenging activity.
“There is a big push in the educational community today to incorporate science and technology into education,” he said. “Anyone with children realizes that their interactions are increasingly digital, and we’re hoping this will be a way to reach out not only to younger audiences, but to the adult population as well. We want this to be a way to bring history and education to folks who might normally not come in the museum very often.”’
And geocaching has already taken off in the area, Edwards noted.
“We currently have one cache already open,” he said. “In the first year, we’ve had about 100 people find that cache,” he said. “And there are probably 700-800 caches in our zip code alone.
“There are a half-dozen in downtown Mount Airy,” Edwards added. “But you won’t find them unless you know where to look.
“One of the caches has literally thousands of people walking by it day in and day out.”
For more information about the project, call Edwards at 786-4478. For more information about geocaching, visit geocaching.com
Reach Keith Strange at email@example.com or 719-1929.