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Geocaching on a Federal Forest

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What is Geocaching?:

Geocaching is a new and developing sport where players use global positioning system (GPS) receivers. With a GPS unit, users locate caches of stuff left by other GPS users. These caches are set up all over the world by individuals and organizations. The GPS coordinates of the caches are posted on the Internet so that other GPS users can find the caches. Once found, a cache may provide the visitor with various rewards - from trinkets to pointing out a great view seen from that particular spot.

Can I Geocache on a National or State Forest?:

Geocaching is increasing in popularity on all forest areas. You are usually allowed to geocache in a state or federal forest if you obey all their very basic rules. Remember, recreational public use of a public forest, whether state or federal, is intended to be short-term and with low-impact so that the many other forest visitors have an opportunity to enjoy the same lands. However, the USFS recognizes geocaching as a legitimate outdoor recreation activity and subtly encourages this activity.

Are There Restrictions on Geocaching on Federal Land?:

If you are locating a cache on National Forest System lands, follow all existing regulations when geocaching. This includes abiding by all motor vehicle restrictions, avoiding damage to trees and plants, avoiding impacts to streams and wetlands and minimizing your impact on the land and other forest visitors. Permanent or long-term structures or improvements are not allowed. If you are unsure about whether geocaching is appropriate, please contact the local U.S. Forest Service office and ask.

Can I Geocache in a Wilderness Area?:

Traditional geocaching is not appropriate in designated Wilderness Areas. This is probably the big area where "cachers" need to be sensitive. The intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964 is "to set aside wilderness as undeveloped federal lands with the imprint of humans substantially unnoticeable". The Wilderness Act prohibits construction of structures and installations. However, virtual caches are allowed in most wilderness areas, and need not be registered. All other caches must be registered.

Can I Geocache in a National Park?:

The National Park Service (NPS) is mostly silent about the practice of geocaching on their property. However, my understanding is that placing a cache on lands administered by the National Park Service is illegal without first obtaining permission. Please contact the park you want to place a cache on to obtain a special use permit or inquire about sites designated for geocaching on park property. Park rangers are usually very nice if you include them when asking about or locating your geocache.

Is Geocache Considered Littering by the Feds?:

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, burying or abandoning personal property in national parks and forests is prohibited due to issues concerning littering. Geocaching supporters argue that caches are not abandoned because people monitor them consistently on the Web and are bound by an unwritten code to keep their "personal" cache in order, with frequent visits and continuous upkeep. The debate is still out on this but actions of geocachers will surely determine any future outcome.

So What If I "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" on Federal Property?:

Due to national security concerns, this philosophy may cause problems for park and forestry officials. National park and forest officials are supposed to contact the federal government and local authorities every time a suspicious package is reported. Geocachers, as a result, are now advised to label the lid of the containers with “geocache.” In the very least you need to label your stash but the best very thing to do is contact the USFS ranger's office when you place a cache.

What is the Geocaching Future on Federal Land?:

National Forest Service (NFS) officials are currently debating the legality of geocaching. Officials, right up front, don’t like geocaching in wilderness areas - period. This wilderness issue is where most of the tension is felt. Even though geocaching is not an illegal activity on national forest lands, it does create an unease when individuals are hiding items in National Forests. Remember, we are in a post 9/11 world, things changed dramatically and we have to abide by the consequences.

Is Big Brother Watching the Geocacher?:

Federal and state agencies are in constant communication with geocaching webmasters concerning cache postings. Many National Forests do monitor geocaching Web sites to see if there are caches within NFS areas that need removing. On occasion agencies even contact people running the Web sites and ask them to remove the information of the cache from their Web site. Webmasters always oblige in removing the information but don’t usually inform the Feds when other new caches are added to their site.

Here are Some Conclusions:

Even though geocaching may be perceived as harmless by most employees and many managers of federal and state forests, new federal and state rules concerning geocaching will likely continue to surface. Geocachers are obligated to practice the sport in both an honorable and non-destructive manner and are obligated to be ambassadors for continuing good relations with government land managers.

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