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Jonas Hartman, left, 10, and his sister, Myah, 8, of Willmar look at Critter Cards found in the geocache at Sibley State Park near New London Aug. 1. Their mother, Staci, right, looks on. (Tribune photo by T.J. Bartelt)

Another way to get people to the park

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NEW LONDON -- Starting a project or hobby can be a daunting task, if you don't know much about it.

If you need to paint a room in your home but have never done it before, chances are you'll seek some sort of assistance.

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For those who are interested in geocaching, an increasing popular outdoors activity, getting started has become a little easier.

Sibley State Park, near New London, has started a Geocaching 101 program, and on Saturday, Aug. 1 about 20 people learned about more than just scouting trails for hidden items.

Naturalist intern Brian Hurley, a recent Ridgewater College graduate, came up with the park's program and led his afternoon charges through the history of geocaching.

"When I first got started, I saw that other state parks were getting geocaching programs," he said. "Dick Clayton, our park naturalist, wanted a program. I wanted to do something a little different. I wanted to put in things on the history of navigation and how GPS got started."

He also recruited help from veteran geocacher Liz Knuth of Rockville, who showed the class the different sizes of caches, from a small 'Bison tube' that was no bigger than a quarter, to a five-gallon bucket painted in a camouflage pattern. She also displayed a 'travel bug', which is a dog tag with printed code on the back, and a geocoin, which is similar to a travel bug but more rare. Both are left in geocaches for people to pick up and move on to another destination.

The fun really began when Hurley took the group out to the amphitheater and handed each group of two to four people a GPS unit, gave them a quick overview of the device then handed them each a note card with a specific waypoint on it. The goal was to find the cache listed on the card, then answer the question on the companion card in the cache.

"We had to find spots that we thought were suitable. We didn't want there to be poison ivy and we didn't want to have problems with bee nests," Hurley said. "We had to find places where it wouldn't be destructive to the park. Then I came up with a series of questions and found some containers."

Every group eventually found their cache and also might have caught a bug in the process. A geocaching bug.

"The typical question I get is 'how do I get started?' " Hurley said. "After you get your GPS, you'll want to go to geocaching.com, download the coordinates and look at the maps. From there, you explore on your own.

"The ladies at the office say as soon as we get done with the program, people race down there to get started. People have really enjoyed the presentation. It's a lot of fun. I've had people come back and they have enthusiasm about the project."

The Minnesota State Parks system has a three-year geocaching project called "Wildlife Safari." Each state park has a multi-point cache hidden that contains "Critter Cards," which are collectible cards with the picture of and information about an animal or plant that is seen in the particular park. Geocachers can also purchase geocoins after reaching specific milestones.

Like any good business, the point of the project is to get more people to partake in the services that are offered. It's no different at a state park. They want to see more people.

"We want to encourage people to do this stuff in the future. We're going to try to offer this more at the park. We're trying to get as many people to come to our program as possible," Hurley said.

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