I recently took a backpacking trip to a very remote and isolated destination in the White Mountain National Forest, following trails that are not drawn on the local USGS quadrangle and do not appear on the most of the region’s printed maps. I didn’t see any other hikers for two entire days and reveled in the wildness and solitude of the area.
At least until I came across this geocache at the end of my first day which drove home the sad reality of our times, that there are few natural places left in the lower 48 you can still go to where the imprint of humans is “substantially unnoticeable” (per the Wilderness Act of 1964).
I know almost nothing about geocaching, except that it’s a high-tech sport, where players use global positioning system (GPS) receivers to locate caches of stuff left by other GPS users. I don’t have any firm opinions about the placement of geocaches, but seeing this one jarred me because up to that points I’d felt like I had been on a unique adventure, the only person to visit this place in weeks or months. There is was at the bottom of a tree right on the trail: unhidden and unlabelled. I didn’t know what the heck it was and steered clear of it.
When I returned home, one of the first things I did was look up whether geocaches are legal in the White Mountain National Forest. It seemed odd that the Forest Service would permit people to leave plastic ammo-case sized boxes scattered in full view along remote trails and viewpoints in the forest. Much to my surprise, Geocaching is legal in the WMNF except in posted Wilderness Areas and alpine areas, where the trees are less than 8 feet tall. Geocaching regulations differ across Forest Service regions, so check with local authorities before placing a Geocache on Forest service land.
This is the first geocache I’ve ever seen in the White Mountains so I don’t know if geocaching is popular in the region or not. While I can see how it fits into the “land of many uses philosophy” espoused by the Forest Service, I’m unsettled by the fact that geocachers can leave man-made objects in the woods for weeks or months at a time since they’re so obviously “unnatural”. The premise seems completely different from other recreational uses like snowmobiling, mountain biking, climbing, hiking, even camping, where forest users takes their toys home with them after they’re finished playing in the woods and mountains.
But I’m willing to keep an open mind about geocaching and not jump to any quick conclusions about it. We need all the people we can get to preserve our National Forests, and if geocachers are willing to fight against commercial encroachment, adopt leave no trace wilderness ethics, and help and respect other forest users, who am I to kick them out of bed?