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Anoka County and Brooklyn Park may join other Twin Cities communities that allow high-tech treasure hunts in their parks.
Park officials in the county and city are considering policies that would allow geocaching. Most Twin Cities county parks and a few cities allow the activity, in which people use handheld GPS (global positioning system) devices to find hidden, waterproof containers holding small toys, a log book and other items. Searchers start by checking a website, such as geocaching.com, to get a list of area caches, each with latitude and longitude coordinates.
"We know it is going on within our city limits," said Brooklyn Park Recreation and Parks Director Jon Oyanagi. "So we wanted to get a policy now rather than react to something later.''
The city's parks advisory commission approved proposed rules for geocaching last week, and the City Council will consider adopting the policy in March, Oyanagi said. The policy restricts geocache locations, which must be registered with the city. Containers can't be buried or hold anything offensive or dangerous.
Anoka County started a year-long geocache pilot project last June. It allows geocaching in a 300-acre area in Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Regional Reserve in Lino Lakes, said Jeff Perry, county parks operations manager.
"So far it's worked out very well," Perry said. "We got a lot of positive responses."
Perry said he is working with the Minnesota Geocaching Association, which has hidden 10 caches in the pilot area.
'Hiking with a purpose'
"People would like to have more caches in the park and expand it to other parks," said Bill Nissen, an association member who hid five caches for the pilot test.
"You are hiking with a purpose," Nissen said. "It's an opportunity to get out and explore new areas. I've found parks I never knew existed." He's also found more than 4,900 caches around the country since he started searching in 2002.
Perry checks a geocaching website where people post comments when they find a cache. He said more than 200 people hunted for the 10 caches and some remarked they never knew the Rice Creek park had a campground or a (Chomonix) golf course. "It gets folks into the parks and shows them what we have to offer," Perry said.
The Anoka County's parks and recreation committee will review the pilot test this summer and could decide to expand the techie-hiking sport to other county parks, Perry said.
The county first considered geocaching in 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Perry said. Checking around the country turned up a report of a bomb threat found in a geocache container, he said. County officials decided to avoid any trouble by sticking with the existing park policy that banned leaving anything overnight in the parks.
Last summer Anoka parks had three geocaching classes that attracted about 45 people age 12 and up, Perry said.
Gadgets meet nature
Nissen said families do the treasure hunts and can swap trinkets for items found in the containers. "Kids love it. They like electronic toys and finding something in the woods," he said.
Minnesota state parks were opened in 2006 to geocaching and some park systems, such as Three Rivers, mostly in Hennepin County, have set up GPS hunts in their parks, officials said.
Other area counties with parks featuring geocaching include Ramsey, Dakota, Carver and Washington. Cities allowing the activity in their parks include Eden Prairie, Champlin, Duluth and Faribault.
Three Rivers, which offers geocaching classes, has allowed the sport since 2002 and permits up to 20 caches to be hidden in each of 17 parks that cover about 25,000 acres, said Marlene Witucki, park geocache coordinator.
"We have never had any reports of inappropriate things in caches," Witucki said. The only snafu she recalled happened last fall when a guy hid a cache in Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve with coordinates that placed it in the middle of a lake. Once notified, he corrected the coordinates, she said.
"It's a great way to encourage people who want to stay connected to get outside," said Tom Knisely, a Three Rivers spokesman. "Technology motivates them. It gets the gadget-prone outdoors.
Jim Adams • 612-673-7658