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SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007
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Gerry Fohner and his 6-year-old son, Will, track a cache at Rhodes Ferry Park.
Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer
Gerry Fohner and his 6-year-old son, Will, track a cache at Rhodes Ferry Park.

Caching in
Local family plays high-tech version of hide and seek — geocaching

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

If you spot Gerry and Kerry Fohner and family battling wasp’s nests and anthills to check around bushes and buildings for hidden objects, don’t worry about it.

They’re geocaching.

This treasure search is fun, relatively inexpensive, challenging and entertaining for the whole family.

And it’s catching on — hundreds of geocachers in the Tennessee Valley have hidden things for others to try to find.

Unlike video games, this hobby gets you off the couch and outdoors for the search. The catch: you need a Global Positioning System to help you search. You log onto the Web site www.geocaching.com with your user name to get the latitude and longitude coordinates where “treasure” is hidden and then go to that area and start looking, GPS in hand.

Gerry estimates he has found about 200 caches in all, but it’s just for “bragging rights” because there’s no real value or expensive prizes.

Gerry often searching for caches while on family trips to state parks and other sites in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee and around Alabama. It’s a fun activity while camping, he said.

The Fohners now have six GPS devices by Garmin and other manufacturers and are totally hooked on geocaching. They use the older models for their 6-year-old son, Will, to learn and search with, and there’s one waiting for his 2-year-old sister, Shannon, whenever she’s ready.

For now, what the children mostly like about it is finding the treasure chests full of trinkets and toys.

“It’s fun. I found gooey eyeballs and a marble, a dinosaur and a ball,” Will said.

Families participating tend to save small toys of the type that come with McDonald’s Happy Meals and other child-friendly items to put in caches.

That’s the rule of this game: if you take something out, you must put something back in.

“And Will is really good about it — he’ll take what he wants out of a cache and put the rest back in place,” said his mom, and they also add something she has brought along to add to the stash. Will once found a marble egg and took it to school for “Show and Tell,” and they also found coins from various countries.

Kerry Fohner with daughter Shannon, 2, and son Will, 6, as they check their GPS to find a cache site.
Kerry Fohner with daughter Shannon, 2, and son Will, 6, as they check their GPS to find a cache site.
“It’s like a treasure hunt for them,” Kerry said, “and it’s a good way to do something with the family and get outside. Everybody should get involved with this — you can do it anywhere.”

They know there are other families in the area doing this, but they haven’t met any.

She has learned to keep a bag full of items that could be added to a cache in her car, along with her GPS unit, “because sometimes we are driving along, not intending to go geocaching, but then we pull over.”

Kerry, 35, is customer service manager for Wayne Farms when she’s not geocaching. Her husband Gerry, 37, is an electrical engineer for Southern Synergy. They met at Mississippi State University and recently moved to the Decatur area from Birmingham.

She said geocaching sometimes can get competitive.

“He likes to find a cache and then later watch me try to find it,” Kerry said. “But sometimes we both carry a GPS unit and race to see who finds it first. And sometimes we just can’t leave until we find it.”

Right now they often take turns carrying their 2-year-old while the other searches with the 6-year-old.

They demonstrated the game last week by looking for a hidden cache that Gerry said he spent several lunch hours trying to find, after his GPS told him he was within 10 feet of the object. The 5-inch green plastic container was hanging from a tree branch, hidden by leaves.

Some people have a lot of fun while hiding objects, he said. They may have magnets attached to them and be under benches or on poles. He found one recently that was inside a pinecone on the ground. Another was a tube inside a wasp nest attached to the eaves of a business.

“I saw one in a tree and thought I could get to it, but it was attached to a fence by fishing wire. I kept trying to knock it down with a stick, and I did everything but go get a ladder. I finally undid the fishing line and it dropped out of the tree. They’re good at tricking you,” Gerry said.

“The main thing is you have to be covert about it. People who don’t know what you’re doing will begin to wonder, and then they’ll find the cache and take the container contents, and they have to be replaced.”

What is geocaching?

It’s a treasure hunting game where you use a Global Positioning System to play “hide and seek” with containers holding small items, signing the log inside when you find one. You enter the latitude and longitude into the GPS device to begin the hunt, and then see what you find at the site. You can hide items and log them on the Internet, or you can simply hunt for things hidden by others. You may take an item home, but you should replace it with another item, or you may hunt simply for the fun of it and just sign the log. It is described as “the sport where you are the search engine.

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