Sunday, February 13, 2011

National Parks and caching

Yesterday I found a geocache in a national park area.  This, of itself isn't that unusual, because it's fairly easy to find Earthcaches and virtual caches inside national park units.  What's much harder to find are actual physical caches, because the National Park Service (NPS) has deemed geocaches not conducive to the national park experience.

When I first started geocaching, I looked at the geocaching maps just to see where possible caches might be hidden.  I actually thought it was pretty cool when I noticed a physical cache hidden near the chapel in Yosemite Valley.  That cache was removed pretty quickly after that by the rangers in Yosemite National Park, which considered it litter.  I can see their point, especially if it creates new geotrails to the cache site, something like that could destroy the local environment.  Non-responsible geocachers who sometimes don't heed the warnings about putting food into caches could also cause problems.  Any kind of food in a geocache would be found by a bear fairly quickly in Yosemite with some possible dire consequences for the bear, if not a cacher who happened upon a bear at the cache site.

There have always been exceptions and it also appears as if the NPS is lightening their stance on physical caches.  I have always been aware of the geocache at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  GCNP Bright Angel has been around since April 2001.  It's also one of those rare caches that geocachers covet, because it's rated a 1 difficulty, but a 4.5 terrain.  That kind of combination in geocaches you don't come across very often.

Something that took me by surprise, however, was another physical cache that I just noticed at the Grand Canyon.  I'd pulled the GC mapping feature up, mainly because I wanted to get the link right for the GCNP Bright Angel cache.  I clicked on the link and immediately realized that I'd clicked on a different cache, yet one that's found within the boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park.  Camping in the Canyon is hidden in the South Rim Campground and has permission of the campground manager to be there according to the cache page.  It's been there since last August and of this writing has 62 finds.  Apparently the NPS really is lightening its stance.

There are six caches found within the boundaries of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the NPS in west of Los Angeles.  I was in Thousand Oaks Saturday with Chaosmanor caching and he told me about this one, but I didn't look closely at the cache page.  I was rather surprised at first when we pulled into the visitors center parking lot for the recreation area.  At first we thought it was going to be outside, but our GPSrs kept pointing inside the building, so we had to wait 10 minutes until the center opened.

Once inside, we walked through the exhibits, looking at a photography display by a local artist on loan to the visitors center through the middle of March.  Chaosmanor spotted the cache from a distance hiding on the backside of a bookcase.  I'd been looking in the general area, but hadn't spotted it yet, so he let me search a little while longer until I also came up with the location.  After signing the log book, we put the cache back and then had a very pleasant conversation with the rangers about geocaching and other things.  We both expressed our pleasure that the park has allowed this kind of activity and encouraged the rangers to express our views to the higher ups.

While researching this post, I looked to see if I could find any information about geocaching on the Santa Monica Mountains NRA website.  It's fairly well hidden, but I was able to track down this page that details what you can do with a GPS in the national park area.

I'm almost wondering whether this area is a testing area for the rest of the NPS.  The Santa Monica Mountains has not one, but 6 physical caches within its boundaries.  If this proves to be a positive experience for all concerned, I can see where it will expand to other areas.  It's small step, but a step that I consider in the right direction for the park service.

Picture was taken near the following geocache:
SAMO ParkCache 1 - by SAMO-NPS

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1 comment:

P.J. said...

Excellent post.

I'll agree that it's hope the national service is lightening its stance.

That being said, I hope if they do, they make it the most strict types of geocaches to have approved. I don't want to go to some amazing national park like Denali and find a micro hidden in a tree. The NPS would need to have such a policy on them. Maybe not even within a mile of another cache. Or more. Make it special.

Great post and it's got me thinking about a post myself to piggy-back off this one a little. ;)