As a geocacher for about a decade, Yoleen Faerber of Bend has seen her hobby steadily grow and increase in popularity.
“The game has such immense, just crazy, crazy growth that it can be a problem,” she said.
Geocaching is a treasure hunt using a GPS device or a smartphone. Working from coordinates found online, geocachers like Faerber, 52, find geocaches. The geocaches vary from tiny 1/2-inch-square metal boxes, dubbed nanocaches, to 5-gallon buckets. They typically hold small log books and often toys or knick-knacks. Whoever finds them is allowed to take a souvenir, as long as a new one is put in its place.
The map on geocaching.com , the homepage for the hobby, shows Central Oregon is peppered with geocaches. Their locations range from Bend — there’s one hidden near the westside Safeway — to deep in the woods and out on the range. But that will soon change.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Prineville District Office last week announced it is working with geocachers to have geocaches removed from the Badlands, Spring Basin and Lower White River wilderness areas, as well as land on nearby Horse Ridge and other lands deemed environmentally sensitive. Along with wilderness areas the lands have titles like “research natural areas” and “areas of critical environmental concern.” The removal follows nationwide BLM policy, banning geocache containers from wilderness areas.
“Geocaching is absolutely a legitimate use of public land, but it’s inappropriate in wilderness areas,” Carol Benkosky, Prineville BLM district manager, said in the press release announcing the removal of the geocaches.
“Most times when the public is setting up a site, they’re unaware that they might be putting it in a closed or a sensitive area, so we rely on the geocaching community to help us spread the word and educate fellow geocachers.”
The reason for the removal of the geocache containers is to protect the lands from the unplanned trails geocachers may wear to a popular geocache location, and to keep man-made objects out of wilderness, BLM Spokesman Lisa Clark wrote in an email.
Faerber said geocachers mainly communicate online and have heeded calls from the BLM to avoid areas in Central Oregon before, mainly a request to stay out of Dry River Canyon during raptor nesting season. The closure typically runs from Feb. 1 to mid-summer.
In all, the BLM plans to permanently remove 47 geocaches in Central Oregon and seasonally close 37 geocaches, meaning a total of 84 will be affected by the changes. Of those, 17 are in the Badlands Wilderness, Clark said, and another six are on or near Horse Ridge. They represent a fraction of the total number of geocaches around Central Oregon, which she estimated between 1,000 and 2,000.
“Central Oregon has always been a hot spot for it,” said Gavin Hoban, GIS specialist for the BLM in Prineville. Geocaching started as a hobby around 1999.
While geocache containers will be removed by geocachers, Clark said the BLM will still allow 22 geocaches without a container on the Badlands and other environmentally sensitive lands. These so-called “virtual” caches have coordinates that lead geocachers to a particular rock, tree or vista.
“You still have something you’ll see there,” Clark said. “You just won’t have a physical cache there.”
While Faerber said she understands the BLM’s concerns, she said geocachers are generally soft on the land they’re exploring.
“One of the values in geocaching is to enjoy the outdoors and not leave a trace, except for the cache,” she said. They also try to follow the phrase, “cache in, trash out.”
“It is not uncommon to see me walking the trail out with a bag full of garbage,” Fraerber said.
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