USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

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Research Topics

Recreation: Changing Research Patterns

Geocaching: Using Technology for Outdoor Recreation

Geocaching, an outdoor activity that uses handheld Global Positioning Systems to find hidden treasures demarcated on the Internet, emerged in 2000 and has engaged more than 100,000 participants in 200 countries. Agency responses to geocaching range from collaborative management plan development to exclusion. Effective management, however, depends on client knowledge. Given the relatively recent emergence of this activity, little is known about this new user group, their behaviors, and preferences.

Thus, the purpose of this University of Minnesota project, lead by Dr. Ingrid Schneider, was to profile geocachers, the benefits they seek in the activity, as well as attitudes toward low-impact behaviors.

An electronically administered questionnaire to geocachers in Minnesota, fall 2003 (n = 133; 60% response rate), revealed geocachers are primarily middle aged, White, and possess high educational and income status. The majority of geocachers find, rather than hide, caches and prefer to find them in public park areas. More than 80 percent of respondents agreed that geocaching had increased their visits to parks and recreation areas. Seven benefit factors emerged related to geocaching: physical fitness, experience nature, learn, stimulation, relaxation, autonomy, and socialization. These benefits sought differed by group type but not geocaching experience levels. Geocachers indicated moderate to strong attitudes toward environmentally responsible behaviors. Preferences for geocaching include finding caches in well-maintained areas and clear policies about geocaching.

Managers have both opportunities and challenges associated with geocaching. Although a variety of approaches have been taken toward geocaching, among and within organizations, a primary recommendation is to meet this new client's needs for information and clarity regarding geocaching policy. Even if the agency policy is to exclude geocaching, clearly explain why. Programming opportunities exist to enhance technological skills, environmental understanding, social cohesion, and maybe revenues. Programs that introduce the activity allow your area to be seen as an advocate for and partner in this evolving technology society. Also, programs done in partnership with local outdoor stores increase your audience, support group, as well as potential for revenue. As we learn more about what is important to this user group, understanding how an agency performs on the important items could be explored with importance performance analysis.

Challenges with geocaching include the possibility of inter-group conflict. Geocaching almost requires off-trail travel and that could instill conflict with other groups, as could the simple use of the technology. Another challenge is understanding the off-travel behavior in light of the positive environmentally responsible attitudes and messages in geocaching.

Regardless of potential conflict or geocaching regulations, geocaching is in your area. Participants derive both social and personal benefits from this experience. Therefore, to effectively manage the use, seek to understand the geocachers and activity in your area, and 'cache' in on their experience, environmentally responsible attitudes, and this new potential support group.

Publications and Products related to this subject:

Chavez, D.J.; Courtright, R.; Schneider, I. 2004. Over the river and through the woods. Parks & Recreation, 39, 4, 68-72.

Chavez, D.J.; Schneider, I.; Powell, T. 2004. The social-psychology of a technology driven outdoor trend: Geocaching in the USA. [Proceedings paper]. Hawaii International Conference on Social Sciences; 2004 June 16-19; Honolulu, HI. [on CD ROM only] p. 583-594.

Research conducted by:
Last Modified: Aug 29, 2016 11:04:53 AM