Surveying As a Sport
March 1, 2007
What activity combines the use of coordinates, the thrill of a scavenger hunt and the search for a good bench mark? Geocaching, of course! The unique sport of geocaching, a hide-and-seek game using GPS receivers, began at the beginning of the millennium. The first documented placement of a geocache took place on May 3, 2000 by Dave Ulmer of Beavercreek, Ore., a mere two days after the announcement that Selective Availability was turned off. Within three days, Ulmer’s geocache had been found twice and logged once. In September 2000, a website associated with the sport sprouted with 75 listed geocaches. By January of this year, the site hit 350,000 geocaches worldwide, proving that the hobby is growing at an explosive rate.
In hopes of educating the geocaching public about the prospects of surveying as a career, the National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) established a program to highlight how the sport relates to the surveying profession.
NSPS Establishes Promotional ProgramOn Dec. 25, 2006, NSPS established the NSPS Geocaching Project by planting a geocache near the heart of the nation, in Lyon County, Kan., a few miles north of the city of Emporia. I gathered with NSPS Geocaching Coordinator Steve Brosemer, LS, a “master” of surveying history, and Gina Poertner, president of the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, to plan the placement of the NSPS geocache. We chose to place a large container on a scenic overlook on the Flint Hills Nature Trail, a 117-mile trail on a historic rail center. The webpage for the NSPS geocache, http://tinyurl.com/yz6r2q describes three topics: the cache itself, the site where it is placed, and promotions for the career of surveying, including a list of Internet links to the homepage of every state surveying organization.
Every state surveying society is encouraged to set up its own geocaching project at the state level under the umbrella of the NSPS Geocaching Project and build an accompanying website. To guide this goal, a digital copy of A Guidebook for Setting Geocaches for a Surveying Organization is available for free as a reference through the Kansas Society of Land Surveyors (KSLS). Each website should include details about the vicinity local to the geocache, information about surveying along with contact information, and details about the geocache(s), such as notes on what the geocache container is, original contents inside the container and coordinates for the best place to park near the geocache. Helpful hints for the seeker will also be appreciated. (For example, to steer clear of a particular yard because trespassing is illegal or because Butch the bulldog likes to eat pants!)
Details about the geocache’s surrounding area provide the seeker with valuable information, such as local events or memorials commemorating Lewis and Clark, explanations about rock formations at the site, or information on finding a spectacular bench mark nearby. Sites relevant to surveying should be included as well. These details may entice geocachers to visit your site.
General information about surveying should also be incorporated on each website. This includes the name of the surveying organization sponsoring the geocache, a link to the organization’s home page, a link to NSPS’ website and links to other notable organizations. Designers of each state’s geocache project should keep in mind that commercial advertising is frowned upon. Any “advertising” should be limited to educational promotions, endorsing surveying as a viable career choice.
Sparking InterestPeople participate in geocaching for any number of reasons: to go for a walk; to go hiking, biking or climbing; to go out with family, friends or someone new; to enjoy the scenery; or to get a glimpse of wildlife. And although geocaching first requires obtaining coordinates for a geocache via the Internet, recreational geocaching will place a seeker outdoors in the physical environment similar to golfing, boating, hunting, fishing--or field surveying. Equipped with a GPS receiver, hunters can benefit from Geocaching.com with free registration and software. Beyond that, finding a geocache is flooded with adventurous opportunities.
Inside a typical geocache, one commonly finds family-friendly trade items such as a Slinky, stuffed animal, toy car, Band-Aid or tickets for a local event. Sometimes a geocache has a designated theme and contains only items related to that theme, such as all purple items or camping supplies. In the NSPS Geocaching Project, surveying-related items accompany the typical contents. These well-chosen items may find their way into the hands of people who may have an interest in a career with GPS--which can spark an interest in surveying as a viable career choice. Seekers may find a compass with the logo and contact information for a local state surveying organization, a ruler with the NSPS logo stamped on it, or a laminated note containing interesting tidbits, such as: “Did you know that three out of the four historical figures on Mount Rushmore were surveyors?”
The traditional geocache is a treasure located at the posted coordinates. Other geocaches may require you to find a chain of geocaches before reaching the final coordinates. On occasion the seeker must first solve a puzzle before the true coordinates are revealed. These common types of geocaches are acceptable choices for state-sponsored geocaches. As mentioned, the main purpose for state-sponsored geocaches is to promote the surveying profession--the rest is just icing on the cake. The surveying contents within the geocache container, coupled with promotional information about the profession on the geocache’s webpage, all lead a geocacher toward awareness of careers in surveying.
To Aid SurveyingAnother goal of the NSPS Geocaching Project is to bring awareness of geocaching to the surveying community. The surveying community can use Geocaching.com to help ease the search for an available NGS bench mark near a jobsite. Geocaching.com promotes the activity of “bench mark hunting” or “benchmarking,” where seekers use the website to track down NGS bench marks. Surveyors use the elevation of a bench mark. Most bench mark hunters are not professional surveyors or geodesists, but they find the activity to be a satisfying hobby that fosters an appreciation of history and infrastructure of world development. Once found, details about the bench mark can be logged online such as the monument condition, how best to reach it, pictures of the area and the find, or its latitude and longitude coordinates. Some geocachers also log finds on the National Geodetic Survey website at www.ngs.noaa.gov, but geocaching logs tend to be more on the informal side, including details that include the tone of the personal experience. These are the additional details that would help a surveyor’s research in the hunt for a good bench mark.
For Sport and VocationGeocaching can aid the endeavors of surveying, and surveying can aid the sport of geocaching. By linking the two, the public and the profession may prove to be equal winners. The success of the NSPS Geocaching Project will be measured by the actions of the public--by those geocachers who choose to participate in this sport for their own recreation. It may also be measured by an increase of newcomers to the profession--like we hope.
The 4-1-1 on GeocachingGeocaching is similar to the 150-plus year activity of letterboxing, which relies on references to landmarks and/or clues embedded in stories. Geocaching, however, utilizes the Global Positioning System and GPS receivers. Here’s the gist of it: geocachers set up hidden treasures (geocaches) all over the world according to established ethics. With latitude and longitude coordinates posted on Internet sites like Geocaching.com, adventurers use their GPS receivers to find caches. Geocachers are asked to treat the land with respect and trade fairly: if they take something from a cache, they should leave something in the cache. There is a logbook in each cache to record each visit and for future finders to read. No digging is necessary or allowed. But finding the caches can be quite an adventure.
Because geocaching is a family-friendly activity, some items are banned from geocaches, such as food, weapons, fireworks and other contraband.