Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt where participants use GPS devices and smartphones to unearth hidden containers. A new geocaching program is getting inner-city aboriginal youth excited about the outdoors and exploring Metro Vancouver Parks.

At first glance, it looks like a group of young people paying attention to their smart phones, and not the woman explaining the task before them.

“The plan is to go along on the west canyon trail and find Tree Hugger which is BC’s oldest cache.”

But these youth aren’t holding phones. They have GPS receivers in their hands.  Jacqueline Sheppet is leading a group into Pacific Spirit Regional Park for an afternoon of Geo Caching.  

“Geo caching is finding something that’s hidden using coordinates entered into a gps,” explains Sheppet. “Taking that gps with you and trying to pinpoint the position where the geo cache is hidden.”

Geocachers get their coordinates from various websites such as  Smart phones and tablets can also be used. There are about 30 geo caches in the park.

“Metro vancouver regional parks have a policy that encourages responsible geo caching that respects the environment,” says Sheppet.  “Geo caches must be placed on well defined trails and they need to have a very minimal impact on the environment.”

This group is from Red Fox – a leadership program for aboriginal youth. Program Coordinator Tori Lemire explains why this activity is part of their work.

“Geocaching is part of our youth leadership program. We’re constantly looking for different opportunities for youth to build their skills and build their knowledge and their confidence. For many of us it’s just a great opportunity to have a spiritual connection to the land that we’re on, to connect to each other and to be using our minds to be doing a bit of a puzzle and something that’s a bit tricky, and of course just getting out there and being physically active.”

Some call it a sport, others say it’s a game.  Whatever it is, it can become an obsession.

“I thought it was fantastic,” says Sheppet. “It was a walk in the woods, but it was a walk with a purpose, a reason to do it. It probably took me about 20 caches, and I was hooked. I’ve been caching for about 4-5 years and I’ve found over five thousand since.”

The group is in search of a cache called Tree Hugger – it’s BC’s oldest cache, still going strong after more than a dozen years.

The young people zero in on the location, put away their devices and start searching the ground. A cheer goes up when a young woman discovers the cache.

Tree Hugger is a very large cache. It’s an old ammunition box filled with all manner of goodies.  

Sheppet explains what’s inside.

“Trinkets, toys for the kids, tradeable coins and whatnot, and so while you’re signing the logbook you may also choose to take one of the items, if you do take something you put something in of equal value, so the geo caches aren’t depleted.”

“I think for a lot of these youth their world can be really small,” says Lemire. “Even coming to Pacific Spirit Park which is just a 20 minute drive across town, can seem like a world away.  We’re suddenly in the trees we can breathe the fresh air, it’s such a different environment and it’s an incredible escape.

Soon it’s onto the next cache.  Jacqueline’s own – one of sixty she’s placed around metro Vancouver.

A young man discovers the cache, this time at the base of a tree. His peers reward him with another round of applause.

For the youth, it’s been a rewarding afternoon.

“There’s just something about going on a treasure hunt but not taking anything, but knowing that you found it and other people will find it, there is kind of like a history to that,” says a young woman.

For one of the young men, the time in nature is what resonates.

“You get in touch with nature and you have that sense of spirituality and kind of calmness and serenity out here.”

Sheppet sees the geo caches as an incentive for people to get outside.

“Metro Vancouver want to encourage people to use their parks. What better way than by giving someone a purpose for their visit, and so geo caching provides a lovely outing a lovely day trip in a metro vancouver regional park.”

Metro Vancouver offers instruction in geo caching at various times through the year, at different locations in its regional parks.  Go to the events calendar for upcoming geo caching events.

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