As Pokemon Go precursor, geocaching has its moment in Aurora

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AURORA | Move over, Pokemon Go.

If you’re finally getting fed up with scouring the local landscape for the nearest PokeGym and trying to catch ‘em all, the city of Aurora is providing an alternative way to keep satiating your treasure-hunting hunger this summer.

Geocaching, the original hobby of do-it-yourself sleuths, is alive and well in Aurora thanks to a yearlong contest organized by members of the Aurora Singers and the Aurora History Museum.

In honor of the city’s ongoing 125th birthday celebrations, the Aurora History Museum, with the help of volunteers from the Aurora Singers, has organized a geocaching contest with logbooks and prizes, or caches, spread throughout the city.

People who complete the contest, which requires participants to collect 12 clandestine caches, are awarded a commemorative token at the museum. About 45 people have earned a token since the contest kicked off in April, according to Abraham Morales, spokesman for the city.

The contest was the fruit of discussions held by the city’s 125th birthday organizing committee, which was comprised of various city employees and residents, according to Jessica Lira, education curator at the history museum.

Sandy Neely, a member of the Aurora Singers, avid geocacher and member of the 125th anniversary organizing committee, spearheaded the local geocaching contest earlier this spring.

“It’s just kind of a fun,” said Neely, a retired Aurora Public Schools music teacher. “My husband (John) and I always say that we spend a lot of money to find tupperware, but it’s just a fun family activity, and that’s one thing that I really like about it.”

Though she’s found more than 100 caches in Aurora and other nearby municipalities, the caches hidden for the city’s contest marked the first time Neely had placed her own boxes. She said that while deciding where to put the caches wasn’t particularly difficult, keeping them away from “muggles,” or people who don’t geocache, proved tricky.

“Sometimes ‘muggles’ will see a cache and take it because they don’t understand it,” Neely said. “So sometimes we have to replace them.”

Started in Oregon in the spring of 2000, geocaching now attracts knickknack-seekers from around the world. With the help of an online database or a smartphone app, users are able to hunt down boxes of hidden trinkets using GPS coordinates.

“When you go to a new city, or even your own city, it gets you to places that aren’t the normal tourist or shopping areas,” Neely said. “It takes your to other areas to explore.”

There are about 3 million active geocachers across the globe, with more than 830,000 participants in the United States, according to Geocaching.com. There are roughly 2.8 million caches littered across the planet, according to the website. Neely estimated that there are more than 1,000 hidden across Aurora.

Uncovering tucked-away treasure troves is not a new phenomenon in Aurora, however, as caches have been sprinkled around the city for more than a decade, according to Jenn Scott, a volunteer trail steward for the city and avid geocacher.

Scott, who daylights at the Community College of Aurora’s Disaster Management Institute, has been helping to plant and collect caches across Aurora with her husband, Max Khaytsus, since about 2006. She said that she was drawn to the activity because of its inherent distance from 21st century technology.

“To me, what’s appealing is being out and seeing places,” said Scott, better known in the geocaching world as her online alias, Stormy_Marmot. “It gets people away from electronics, so to speak, because you’re still going to have a little bit whether you have a GPS on a phone or whatever. But it’s back to generic electronics, not your Nintendo games and all that good stuff.”

Scott said that while she’s unsure if geocaching will be thrust into the national limelight due to the recent craze surrounding Pokemon Go, there is a chance for some cross pollination.

“I would like think (geocaching) might pick up now because of Pokemon.” said Scott, who has placed dozens of caches around Aurora, including several that were used in a promotional contest for the Aurora Fox Arts Center’s 2014 production of “Spamalot.” “People could be looking for something similar, but I don’t know.”

Neely echoed Scott’s trepidation regarding connections between geocaching and Pokemon Go, though she said that the new Pokemon game may at least provide some treasure hunting solidarity.

“It takes some of the pressure off of us,” Neely said. “Because now we’re not the only ones wandering around looking at our phones.”