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A creepy cache has prompted Dakota County to institute new rules for high-tech treasure hunting in its parks.
The new geocaching guidelines are meant to promote the activity within the parks, but also to keep hidden items on county parks' officials radar.
And, in a perfect world, prevent a repeat of a May incident in which a group of teenage boys stumbled across a full-size coffin-shaped cache in Lebanon Hills Regional Park. Emergency personnel responded and the Dakota County Sheriff's Office confiscated the homemade wooden coffin, which contained a plastic skeleton.
Turns out it was part of a series of caches -- hidden items that geocaching participants find using handheld GPS devices -- planted around Halloween 2008 but never retrieved.
A newsletter from the Dakota County Sheriff's Office in May noted that the "coffin and its occupant were taken into custody."
Dakota County's new rules don't limit the number of caches in any one park, but does require that any hidden material be registered on the parks department website.
And actually, the Parks Department plans to get in on the geocaching fun, following the lead of the Minnesota State Parks, which encourage the activity that combines hiking and technology.
"It's great for families," Beth Landahl, manager of park operations and education, told Dakota County Commissioners during a recent presentation. The Parks Department plans to offer GPS units for checkout in the near future, she said.
People placing and searching for caches will have to follow the new rules.
Caches can't be buried and must not disturb vegetation, wildlife or other park features. And Landahl noted that anything contained in the cache -- often a logbook and small trinkets -- must be family-friendly. And the hidden treasurers can't be bigger than 12 inches by 6 inches by 8 inches.
"The coffin?" Commissioner Liz Workman asked teasingly.
Landahl quickly responded: "The coffin would have exceeded the size limitation."
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056