Zoo challenges geocachers to find hidden surprises

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GPS gamers can seek four different caches on zoo grounds

If you notice Oregon Zoo visitors looking down at their GPS devices instead of up at the animals, don't be surprised. Since the zoo joined millions of people worldwide in the game of geocaching this spring, some visitors have been almost as interested in finding the zoo's caches as its cats.

Geocaching is an outdoor treasure-hunting game that originated in Beavercreek, Ore. In it, players search for hidden containers called caches using GPS-enabled devices, and then share their experiences online. In March, the Oregon Zoo placed four caches on its grounds, posting the GPS coordinates online at www.geocaching.com. Since then, a number of geocachers have found the containers and posted about their experiences on the website, writing comments like "Another great zoo cache for my grandson," and "In good condition, thanks."

"The zoo's caches are designed to be fun and family-friendly," said Lorrie Strawn, Oregon Zoo admissions supervisor and a geocaching enthusiast. "They are hidden in public spaces to make it safe and exciting for children to participate. But it's also fun for adults, and a great place for beginners to gain experience."

Strawn, who partnered with a member of GEOregon to plan and place the zoo's caches, says that, due to the secretive nature of the game, only a few other organizations in the area have officially posted caches. Bringing it out into the open, she says, has encouraged geocachers and their families to find something new to enjoy at the zoo.

"You can see people walking along the trail, looking down at their GPS and thinking, 'Where is it?'" Strawn said.

Each zoo cache is a small locked box with a logbook inside. Its GPS location and lock combination are posted on geocaching.com for players to find and use to open the cache. Decorations on each cache reflect the environment in which it is placed: a picture of silverware on the cache near the animal commissary, for example, and a painting of a train on the cache by the zoo railway.

All four caches have been placed with permission and can only be accessed when the zoo is open. Each has its own website with information and directions:

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