Buried treasure, no pirates allowed

Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2009

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Staff photo by GARY SMITH
La Plata Councilman Scot Lucas checks out some of the items town officials have placed in a plastic container that is hidden somewhere in town as part of the Maryland Municipal League's Geo Trail project.

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The Maryland Municipal League's Geocache Trail is officially on the map and local leaders said they are banking on the unique treasure hunting activity to promote tourism in 78 municipalities across the state, including La Plata.

The Annapolis-based organization that represents 157 municipalities in Maryland officially kicked off the MML Geo Trail on Jan. 1, and La Plata is one of the towns that is participating in the project, said Assistant Town Manager Michelle Miner. The MML has been working on the project for two years, she said.

Recently, the town and several volunteers hid a cache of "treasures" that includes La Plata lapel pins, stickers, historic brochures and pens in a clear plastic box that can be located by using a global positioning system and map coordinates, she said.

If a geocacher removes an object from the cache, he or she is expected to replace it with another treasure, Miner said, adding that the town's cache also contains a journal so that treasure hunters can record their thoughts for future geocachers who find the treasure to read.

The MML's Geo Trail is a unique promotion to help draw tourists to small towns across Maryland, Miner said.

"It looks like it's going to be a lot of fun," she said. "You get some exercise, and it can involve the entire family. It also enables people to see different parts of the state relatively inexpensively."

"We want to make folks more aware of the cities and towns in Maryland," said Linda Burrell, MML's manager of member relations and education. "It will help promote economic development, particularly in these hard economic times."

Geocaching is a fairly inexpensive pastime that families can enjoy doing together, Burrell said.

"Especially with gas prices coming down, it's a great opportunity to jump in the car with the family to discover the many wonderful attractions Maryland towns have to offer," she said, adding that the first 500 geocachers who locate at least two caches hidden in each of the state's 11 municipal districts will be able to obtain a collectible coin that bears a composite of the state's attractions on the front and the MML's logo on the back. To be eligible, treasure hunters must pick up a passport at a state or county visitors center and use the rubber stamp hidden in the cache containers to mark the passport block with the town's name written on it, she said.

To collect the coin, geocachers must return the passport to a visitors center, Burrell said.

A cache can be hidden almost anywhere, including parks, the inside of buildings and trees, Burrell said. The trinkets stashed in the plastic containers can range from arts and crafts items, small stuffed animals and nonperishable food items to books, CDs, tapes and coupons for local establishments.

Some caches contain disposable cameras that treasure hunters can use to take photographs of themselves. The cache owner eventually recovers the camera and places the photographs on a Web page.

Geocaching is growing in popularity, according to the Maryland Geocaching Society. The pastime was started in 2000 by Dave Ulmer who lived in Oregon.

Two people found the cache and entered their names in a geocaching Web log and the hobby was born.

La Plata Mayor Roy Hale said he hopes the Geo Trail draws a lot of visitors to the town who will also take advantage of other amenities that La Plata has to offer.

"Geocaching is going to be a fun thing to do, and it will encourage people to explore Maryland's cities and towns," he said. "The trail will encourage people to visit La Plata, and it will also encourage them to visit our businesses while they're in town. I think that it's going to be a good thing for the town."

"It will help to bring people into town who normally wouldn't come here," said Ward 2 Councilman Scot Lucas. "Hopefully, it will help to stir up business for the business owners and the town in general."

"It will certainly help to support the town," said Ward 1 Councilman Jim Goldsmith.

"There are individuals who really enjoy that type of activity and as they participate in it they will also be able to see the interesting and historic sights of the town and the county."


Get more information:

Treasure hunting The Maryland Municipal League Geo Trail kicked off Jan. 1, and the La Plata Town Council has a geocache hidden in town for treasure hunters to discover. Geocachers can access the MML's geocache file by visiting www.geocaching.com, going to the organization's account and downloading or manually entering the map coordinates for each cache on the geocache trail. Learn more about geocaching on the Maryland Geocaching Society's Web site at www.mdgps.org.