One Woman’s Journey Brings Physical Geocaches to National Parks

Abby Wolfe (hydnsek) on left and Park Ranger Cindy Bjorklund on right

Geocacher Abby Wolfe (pictured on the left) wears many proverbial “hats.”  The avid hiker is the President of the Washington State Geocaching Association (WSGA) and chairs its Park Advocacy Committee. Her username is hydnsek.

Abby is also one of the few to make physical geocaches in national parks in the United States a reality.

Here’s her story, in her own words. See what you might learn about bringing physical geocaches to a national park near you.

LATITUDE 47: Tell us the big geocaching news about the North Cascades National Park, what happened and how did you make it happen?

ABBY: The first two physical caches were recently published in North Cascades National Park Service Complex (NCNPSC) – Cascade Pass Trailhead and Gorge Dam Overlook. This may be the first western national park to permit physical caches – a great win for geocachers!

I first contacted North Cascades three years ago to get permission for an EarthCache. They were receptive, and their interpretive specialist suggested the location for a second EarthCache. I met with them, and built a relationship from there—becoming a park volunteer (VIP) and their geocaching liaison, and educating them about geocaching and the potential benefits of physical caches. It helped that the superintendent was already enthusiastic about “questing” activities (as he calls them) because he’d taken his kids letterboxing, and they had already permitted a letterbox.

Near Cascade Pass Trailhead geocache

LATITUDE 47: What lessons have you learned about working with the National Park Service that other geocachers should know?

ABBY: Many cachers believe the NPS bans geocaching, which isn’t entirely true. The current NPS geocaching guidance document (PDF file) leaves it to the discretion of individual park superintendents. Many NPS personnel aren’t familiar with it, so you may have to educate them about the guidance doc as well as geocaching.

You’re more likely to have success with lesser-known parks that are looking for ways to raise their profile and increase attendance (and funding). For example, Mount Rainier is hugely popular and has no incentive to permit physical caches (although we’ve turned a key ranger into an avid geocacher). North Cascades is a different story; they receive only 19,000 visitors each year (!), so promoting geocaching as a popular activity and educational tool that could help attract new visitors was a strong selling point.

LATITUDE 47: Why do you think geocaching belongs in national parks?

ABBY: Many of our greatest natural wonders are in the National Parks. Geocaching provides a fun and educational way to explore them, especially for families, since kids are more engaged by the “treasure hunt” than by scenery and signs. EarthCaches are great, but they’re limited to geological features and are less appealing to some cachers and kids. Physical caches can showcase scenery, flora and fauna, and human history.

Near Gorge Dam Overlook geocache

LATITUDE 47: How do geocachers (seekers and those seeking to hide caches) continue a healthy relationship with the national parks?

ABBY: I think the best way is to show that we understand their goals and concerns, and that we respect the environment (think CITO!) and park policies. Becoming a park volunteer is a great way to foster this; it’s helped WSGA win over several parks. If you can get park personnel to view geocaching as a positive recreational activity that supports their mission without adding to their workload, it will be easier for them to support geocaching.

Building these trusting relationships is the goal of WSGA’s Park Liaison Program, which pairs a geocacher with a park system to self-manage geocaching activities. North Cascades was one of our first participants, and we currently have 10 park systems in the program.

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