June 15, 2010 By Russell Nichols
Geocachers in Ada County, Idaho, have a new mission, should they choose to accept it: tracking down hidden containers that hold data on noxious weeds.
This is part of an ongoing operation set up by the county's Weed, Pest and Mosquito Abatement Department to pinpoint expanding noxious weeds before they wreak havoc on the environment. In years past, the department used informational brochures and fliers to educate the public on harmful weeds. Now they're taking the high-tech, hide-and-seek approach known as geocaching to spread the word.
"There are a lot of people in the county who do this," said Jake Mundt, the department's administrative operations manager. "We put in a more formal mechanism to allow geocachers, if they find the same weed in another area, to report where it is. This helps us develop our action plans to help us control or eradicate noxious weeds in the region."
Geocaching is a global phenomenon in which recreationists use GPS receivers and other navigational tools to locate any of the million-plus containers, called caches, hidden in rural and urban areas around the globe. For the past 10 years, devotees have declared that geocaching forces you to go to places you've never gone before.
Seeking to attract visitors and inspire residents to go exploring, more state and local governments have been looking to "cache" in. Georgia reportedly launched a high-tech treasure hunt in May, hiding caches at state parks for seekers to find. In Palm Coast, Fla., the GIS division planted containers in parks, trails and natural reserves with "a treat" inside each cache.
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