COVINGTON - It's a craze that's catching on across the globe, and now Newton County is getting caught up in it. It's called geocaching, and participants say it's more than a hobby - it's an addiction - one that's family-friendly and free, to boot.
Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt that is played all over the world. Players use global positioning system devices to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, stashed in communities across the country and the world.
To play, all they have to do is log into a Web site, www.geocaching.com, enter their ZIP codes and find the geocaches closest to them.
They then download the GPS coordinates and use a GPS device to find the cache, stored in a small box. Usually, the cache will contain a logbook for the finder to sign and may or may not contain a small prize for them to keep, as well.
Caches can be located just about anywhere above or below ground, outside buildings, even on the side of cliffs or under water.
Once found, the finder must note his accomplishment in the logbook, log the experience on the Web site and replace any prize he finds with a treat for the next finder.
Brian Sorensen has been an avid geocache hunter for about two years.
"It's addictive," he said.
Sorensen recently helped the Tourism Division of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce launch a geocache hunt to promote tourism and provide locals with a fun way to explore their community.
The hunt was started just a week ago and already is proving very popular, said Clara Deemer, tourism director for the Chamber.
"People are already out and finding them," she said, adding that travelers from Acworth and Griffin have already logged in as finders.
The hope is that once here, players will stay and patronize local businesses and restaurants, Deemer said.
The game is also proving enjoyable for locals.
"I heard from someone who's lived here for 18 years who had no idea these locations were in Newton County," Deemer said.
Deemer won't reveal the location of the geocaches - that would ruin the game - but said there are five hidden in the Covington area. Each contains a magnet featuring a photo of the General Lee jump at Oxford College's Seney Hall.
Sorensen estimates there are a total of 10 to 15 geocache sites in Newton County. He's hidden at least five himself here and about 50 in Athens.
"Getting out and finding them is the biggest thrill. Finding the first one is the best," he added.
Worldwide, there are more than 700,000 active geocaches, according to www.geocaching.com.
Sorensen said it's not surprising the hobby has gained such popularity.
"I think it gets people outdoors and it's family-friendly. It's a good way to spend time with the kids. It's a good leisurely activity. You don't have to be in excellent shape to do this. There's plenty of good geocaches you can find by driving up to them," he said.
Next, Sorensen is planning to include "travel bugs" in at least two local geocache sites. The bugs are dog tags that are moved from cache to cache by finders, with the goal of sending them as far and wide as possible.
Each travel bug tag is printed with a unique PIN, which is needed to post a log online to track its travels.
To learn more about geocaching, visit www.geocaching.com. Participation is free, though membership to the Web site is available for $30 per month and provides access to information on caches only available to members.
Crystal Tatum can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.