The growing hobby of geocaching - often described as a high-tech treasure hunt - can be social, family or individual. It can take all day or be a quick grab-and go. It can be a history lesson. But mostly, it's ever-changing.
"It's a great social activity," said Brian Young, unofficial spokesman of Tiffin's Cachers Anonymous. "It's a great way to meet new people you may never cross paths with in the normal day. It's a great way to get out and experience new places.
"It crosses genders, all economic levels and racial lines," he said. "It crosses everything.
Local geocachers (from left) Brian Gaietto (600), Shannon Armitage (900), Jonathon Armitage (200) and Brian Young (700) pose after celebrating geocaching milestones.
A birdhouse with a puzzle cache hidden inside.
A cache is shown stashed away among the books at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.
One of the local dam caches.
"It's an inexpensive activity," he said. "It's a reason to get outside."
The informal group formed last fall.
"I'm just one of the more outspoken and one of the more socially gregarious people in the area," Young said. "I don't want to be the dominating personality, but I want to make sure things get done."
Geocaching event planned
Cachers Anonymous is planning a "Waffle Stomper" bring-your-own-breakfast event 9-11 a.m. July 13 at Cool Creations restaurant, 706 S. Sandusky St.
The group is expecting geocaching enthusiasts from throughout northwest and north central Ohio.
Anyone interested in learning more about geocaching is welcome to join in "whether they have just heard about geocaching and have a thousand questions or veterans of geocaching with thousands of finds," said Brian Young, spokesman for Cachers Anonymous.
In preparation for the event, organizers are hiding new caches in the Tiffin area.
People planning to attend are asked to register on the website, but it is not required. Registering online requires free registration on the website.
Cachers Anonymous meets at 6 p.m. on the second Wednesday of every month at Phat Cakes downtown.
"We've only been meeting since October," he said. "We get a diverse group of people regionally."
People attend from Carey, Fostoria, Findlay, Toledo, Fremont, Mansfield, Ada and, of course, Tiffin.
"There are about 20 active people in the Tiffin area that I can think of," he said. "Most of the people that come to the meetings are very active."
Anyone interested in learning more geocaching is welcome to attend a meeting to find help getting started.
"We're always willing to help out," he said. "We meet where there is wifi available."
The first step is to visit the website, register and create a profile.
From there, cachers - new or experienced - search for caches in their area or in an area they plan to visit. They can download each cache's coordinates into a GPS unit or a smartphone, and the coordinates lead the person to a cache. Any device that can be connected the Internet can be used.
There are specific geocaching apps that can be downloaded, but even Google Maps will work.
"I've seen (caches) as small as a nano - a blinker the size of a watch battery," Young said. "All the way up to a 5-gallon bucket."
When somebody finds a cache, he or she signs a piece of paper and often finds "treasure" inside.
"The smaller caches just have a log sheet to say I was here," Young said. "The larger sizes have a log sheet or book along with swag. Generally, there are little trinkets."
The hobby can be enjoyed by all ages. He suggested 4-5 years old is a good age to begin to actively participate.
"The oldest (person) I know is in his 90s," he said, adding there's a local woman in her 80s who takes part.
Children, in particular, enjoy finding treasure, he said.
Geocaching is a family affair for Shannon Armitage, who has been geocaching for almost two years and is expecting to find her 1,000th cache soon.
"I have my number 1,000 picked out near Wapakoneta," she said. "It's a puzzle cache. I love the puzzles."
Puzzles required the searcher to find clues at various locations and put them together to determine the caches' exact location.
Armitage said she and her family got started in geocaching when her son was looking for merit badges in Boy Scouts.
As they went through the list of options, she said the description intrigued them.
"Neither one of us had ever heard of it or knew what it was," she said. "We said 'This sounds interesting.' A couple months later, we went out and found our first one and we were hooked; or I was hooked.
"It's an addiction," she said. "It's the experience. It's never the same thing twice and it takes me someplace new all the time."
She said her family had been camping in Hocking Hills, but while geocaching she has found lots of new places to see.
"Even around here, it takes me places and I think, 'I never knew this was here,'" she said. "Lots of history."
She would recommend geocaching to anybody, she said.
"It gets you outside. I love being outside," she said. "You see neat things. It's cheap. It's easy.
"The whole experience is what you make of it," she said. "To me it's my mental health day. I try to go out about once a week."
She, her husband, their five children ranging in age from 5-17, plus the family dog, all enjoy their outings.
"It's a family thing," she said. "We like the places it takes us, the places it takes us that are not tourist attractions. I think, 'This is awesome.' I never would have found this."
As geocaching evolves, Young said some people are creating individualized items to leave in caches as their trademark.
"Signature items are custom-made craft items that have the geocacher's name on them," he said.
For example, one person uses wooden block cubes and another uses a guitar pick.
Young hasn't decided on one for himself yet. He still is thinking about what to create that can be personalized to him.
"I have (found) almost every geocache found within probably 20 miles of Tiffin," he said. "Seneca County is very saturated with geocaches compared to other places throughout the country."
In South Carolina, for example, he found only three within 10 miles.
His farthest cache has been more than 100 miles away. His longest hike to find a cache has been three miles. And the most caches he's found in one day was 51.
One of the more unusual caches he's "found" is a webcam cache. After a cacher finds the location, he or she stands in front of the public access webcam and gets another person to take a screen shot.
Young owns and maintains 28 caches, with permission from property owners where they are located.
One of his caches is at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.
He said cachers must look up a few facts regarding the 1913 flood to find the call number for a book. The cache is disguised as a book on the shelf.
"It lines up great with their mission of getting people into the library and reading local history," he said.
Another of his geocaches can be found near the straw bale house at the Franciscan Earth Literacy Center.
"Getting local information is another reason why I encourage people to geocache," he said. "It tells why the straw bale house is so important and efforts the sisters are making with
sustainable living and organic gardening and why it's important to our future."
His newest caches are five he placed in Mercy Community Park on the grounds of Mercy Tiffin Hospital.
Armitage owns and maintains 15 caches in the Fostoria area, some of them around the reservoirs.
"Each of them is a little different and out-of-the-box creative," she said.
Another person has a cache in a birdhouse, and people who find it learn about local birds.
Another is so small it's camouflaged and the average person walking by wouldn't notice it.
One local person is working on placing a cache within each cemetery in Seneca County.
"It helps bring focus on the local history," Young said. "I've learned a lot about the Sandusky River and some of the battles that took place along the Sandusky River and the forts during the War of 1812."
Then, there's the "dam cache" series. Caches located on the island at Pioneer Mill tell people about the river cleanup efforts during the past several years.
"It raises awareness of environmental factors," he said.
Young said there have been some instances of people reporting caches as security threats, so it's helpful if people understand what they are.
"We're pushing for cache owners to label their caches on the outside because of bombs and other threats," he said. "We try to prevent a possible bomb scare in Tiffin."
Young said he got hooked on geocaching after a friend suggested the website.
"I created an account just to find out more about it," he said.
He and a friend went to the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg on the Maumee River and he found his first cache.
"I got to learn about nature and organic gardening and all of that involved sustainability," he said. "And it made me wonder what else is hidden out there."
Young said each geocaching trip has its experiences.
"There was the time I found a possum," he said.
He was searching for a cache in a tree and found more than he bargained for.
He has found caches on a street in the middle of Toledo and in a florist shop.
Sometimes they're found after a nice hike with a beautiful view.
"A lot of times it's a park-and-grab," he said. "Grab it off the guardrail and go."
Some geocachers go a step further and get involved with trackable items such as geobags, path tags, travel bugs and geo-coins.
He suggested asking for details on how tracking works.
Some caches are in motion.
"The newest trend is human trackables, where you get a number tattooed on you," he said.
Other moving caches are on vehicles or walking sticks.