Boy Scouts going high-tech

By: HARRY YANOSHAK (Sun, Feb/04/2007)

Bob Grasmeder radioed back to camp that the boys couldn't find the cache.

All their handheld global-positioning system receivers agreed this was the spot, give or take 25 feet.

“It should be facing the ball field,” Grasmeder said as several Boy Scouts finished searching a woodpile and a smaller group worked around a nearby shed. Maybe the new-fallen snow had covered up the cache.

In the end, the Scouts abandoned this spot and considered it a technical glitch.

After all, there were 32 other caches to find along the roughly 6-mile sled course and only a few hours left to find them.

Many of the 150 to 175 Scouts who participated in the Klondike Derby on Saturday were initiated into “Geocaching,” a hobby that combines the love of technology with the fun of treasure hunting.

“Geo” comes from geology; caching (pronounced cashing), from the word “cache,” which in camping circles means a hiding place.

Hobbyists stash caches all over the world. Typically, a cache is a container that holds a logbook to record who has been there and a trading item of little value, such as a small toy, glass bead or trinket. The cache's coordinates are posted on the Internet (www.geocaching.com is a preferred site) so another hobbyist can find the cache using a handheld GPS receiver. The challenge comes from not knowing the exact location of the cache (depending on the unit, a GPS receiver is accurate to within 20 to 30 feet) or the terrain or type of structure where the cache is hidden. The finder takes something from the container, leaves something for the next person and signs the logbook.

Call it a high-tech treasure hunt, said Jaime Weiner, an assistant manager with Eastern Mountain Sports, which loaned many GPS units to the Scouts and provided some prizes.

At the Klondike Derby, an annual wintertime exhibition of Scouting skills and teamwork, the Scouts used GPS to find caches tucked in the trees and brush at Bucks County's Tinicum Park.

Traveling by kid-pulled, homemade dog sleds, each team of Scouts sliced across the flat, 126-acre park to search for 33 caches. The locations, or waypoints, were loaded into their GPS devices; the Scouts were given a chart telling them the order in which to find each cache. There also were 10 stations, or “towns,” along the route that scored each group's ability to perform a skill.

“One thing that's at every station is a focus on teamwork and Scout spirit,” said Grasmeder, an assistant Scoutmaster with Hilltown-based Troop 67, which organized the event.

Besides fire-building and first aid, Scouts also tested their ability to use the “Gizmondo,” a three-person slingshot that launched slightly frozen water balloons at a tent target some 100 feet away. There also was “Hali-Bout Fishing,” a game in which loaded mousetraps were placed in a circle (you must wear gloves) and the Scouts tried to catch the mousetraps using a makeshift fishing pole on which a metal washer is tied.

But to go fishing, the Scouts had to first find the washers to tie to the pole. To find the washers, the Scouts had to ditch the GPS and use a map and compass.

“We still use the map and compass,” said Grasmeder, holding up his GPS. “Remember, this runs on batteries.”

Sixteen troops from across Bucks County Council participated in the Klondike Derby, said Chris Finnegan, also an assistant Scoutmaster with Troop 67.

This year's theme was “The Trail to Geo-Scouting,” which refers to the term coined by Dr. Mary Stevens (www.geoscouting-info.com). Geo-scouting incorporates the values of Boy Scouting with the newly emerging sport of Geocaching, Finnegan said.

Navigation skills have been a part of Scouting since its inception early in the last century, he said, adding that several merit badges incorporate GPS skills.

“Bringing GPS into the Klondike Derby was a natural. Kids today are completely at home with technology and after a few minutes of instruction are off and running,” Finnegan said.

Fourteen-year-old Barry Vega was getting his first lessons in GPS from fellow Troop 27, Riegelsville, Scout James Douglas, who's also 14 and a senior patrol leader. Douglas said he finds GPS useful to plotting stream locations on maps.

Louis Fantini, 14, a first-time GPS user and senior patrol leader for Troop 16 in Quakertown, said he had no trouble learning the technology.

“It's really easy to pick up and it's accurate to within 25 feet. It's a lot easier to use than map and compass and the unit is pretty self-explanatory. It gives you an arrow and you go there.”

Article's URL:     http://www.phillyburbs.com/pb-dyn/news/113-02042007-1294035.html  

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