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Popular geocaching comes to local parks

Collegedale resident and recent SAU graduate Nathan Lewis is an expert geocacher.

Since he began participating in the real-world scavenger hunt game eight years ago that uses GPS coordinates to lead people to watertight containers called caches, he has found more than 7,000 in 39 different states.

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Expert local geocacher Nathan Lewis, left, and Chattanooga Parks and Recreation public relations coordinator Brian Smith display a small geocache found in one of Heritage Park’s trees. Although they did not use this location, it’s the kind of place that geocaches can often be found. Two geocaches are currently on the property at Heritage Park.

“It’s taken me to a lot of places, and many of them weren’t places I would have gone otherwise,” said Lewis of his hobby. “I don’t really do it for the toys or the stuff in the caches anymore. For me it’s more about the locations I’ve gotten to see and the people I’ve met along the way.”

While some caches only contain a log for people to sign once they find it, others contain toys or small trinkets that can either be taken or left for the next geocacher. The family-friendly activity only requires a GPS device or smartphone application.

Chattanooga Parks and Recreation public relations coordinator Brian Smith has recently begun the process of adding at least one geocache to each of the city’s parks and community centers. In order to accomplish his goal, he enlisted the help of Lewis.

“I met Nathan a few years back and his experience and thrill for the hunt as well as his desire to keep this an evolving family game led me to contact him for the Parks and Recreation caching experience,” said Smith. “This guy is the best around and I’ve asked him to help me place caches at the parks, community centers and other facilities in an effort to bring more people out to our locations and maybe show them something they’ve never seen before.”

While many of the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation caches will contain only a sign-in log, at least one will contain brochures, information about the parks and possibly even some prizes. Another of the caches will be enabled with a tracking device, and cachers will be encouraged to remove the device and place it in different caches throughout the city or even the world, said Smith.

Heritage Park in East Brainerd is a great place for new cachers in the East Hamilton area to get started, but according to Lewis there are plenty more caches in Collegedale, Ooltewah and Apison.

“I’d estimate there are easily 200-300 caches in the area,” he said. “There are probably 50 or 60 just on Southern’s campus and on the biology trail system.”

In order to begin geocaching, participants must first visit www.geocaching.com and become a member. There is both a free and paid option. After registering, participants need a GPS device or smartphone with a GPS application to start finding geocaches.

Smith and Lewis agreed that people may be surprised to find out just how many caches are in areas they regularly visit, but have never noticed.

“It’s all about finding new locations and revisiting your neighborhood all over again and finding something new,” said Smith.

With a personal best record of finding 411 caches in one day, Lewis said people can easily find multiple caches in one day, especially if they start looking for easier ones in areas with which they are already familiar. Once participants get more accustomed to geocaching, he said there are plenty of more difficult caches to find, some of which require extra equipment, long drives and hikes, scuba diving or rock climbing.

For more information about geocaching or to find a list of caches near you, visit www.geocaching.com. To find Chattanooga Parks and Recreation’s hidden caches on the site, search for “chattparksrec.” To find Lewis search for “Super_Nate” on the geocaching website.

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