Tag Archives: gps

Hidden Treasures in New York State Parks

No need to chase down the end of a rainbow to find a hidden treasure.  What if I told you that you could find unique knick-knacks, rubberstamps and secret messages in parks near you?  This spring I challenge you to explore participating New York State Parks and Historic Sites and try out these fun treasure-hunting activities!

Geocaching (geo= Earth, caching= hiding/storing) is a great hide-and-seek activity that started in 2000 with the rise of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology.  Geocachers use location coordinates and a GPS device such as a smartphone to find a hidden container.

official geocache
A geocache hidden near a tree. Geocaches can vary greatly in size and appearance. Public domain image

Inside each container is a logbook, and if the container is big enough there are trinkets that you can see and swap (See Resources below for details about the different kinds of geocaches).  Occasionally the “hidden treasure” is the scenic location itself.  If searching in a New York State Park, it’s not uncommon for geocaches to be along trails with peaceful waterbodies or iconic views nearby.  Bring a buddy or two to serve as extra eyes, especially since GPS location information can vary by a few meters.

Letterboxing is a much older hobby (at least 150 years old) which involves exchanging unique rubber-stamped images instead of trinkets.  Traditionally you find the hiding places using clues or written directions, but some hybrid letterboxes may have coordinates as well.

CranmerePoolLetterbox
The famous Cranmere Pool letterbox in England, photo by Patrick Gueulle

Each letterbox has a special, often hand-made rubber stamp for you to stamp into a journal like a passport; in return, you use your own personal stamp to “sign” the letterbox logbook.  This outdoor activity began in the mid-1800s, when a trail guide left his business card in a bottle at Cranmere Pool in Dartmoor, England.  Others who hiked through the notoriously rough terrain found the bottle, and they began to place their own business cards inside as a way to say, “I was here.”  This turned into travelers hiding boxes in the woods and meadows for postcards and, eventually, stamps.  If you like clues, art, traveling and walking through beautiful trails, then I recommend giving letterboxing a try.

Who can participate in these local adventures?  Anybody!  Both activities are a great way to find new nature trails, historic sites or hidden treasures near you.  Are you ready to go letterboxing or geocaching in New York State Parks?  Here’s how!

Search for an active geocache/letterbox at a Park near you.

There are different websites and mobile apps to search for letterbox clues and geocache spots (See Resources below).  Use the “Search” features to find stamps or caches nearby, in a place you’d like to visit, or at a State Park that you enjoy.  Letterboxes and geocaches have been found in every region of the state.  Just remember that locations are subject to change, as caches/stamps can go missing or can be retired by their owners.  As a courtesy, people often record their findings online to update the status of a letterbox/geocache.

Pack your supplies

If you are geocaching:

  • The geocache coordinates
  • GPS device or cell phone
  • A pen
  • (optional) A trinket of your own

If you are letterboxing:

  • The letterbox clues/directions
  • A notebook
  • Your own, “signature” rubber stamp
  • (optional) Your own ink-pad, just in-case
  • A pen to sign, date and write any comments about your trip in the letterbox journal or your own. Make sure to sign with your trail name and not your real name!

Prepare for the weather/terrain 

As with any kind of adventure, consider the weather and terrain beforehand.  A few geocaches and letterboxes are indoors, but many others require going out on a trail.  If you are treasure-hunting on a sunny day, wear a hat and bring water.  Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts if going out in colder weather, or in an area that might require you to be walking on a path with lots of brush nearby.  Wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes, and keep an eye out for poison ivy, stinging nettles, slippery surfaces, etc.

Learn the rules & be respectful of nature. 

Stay on trails, and do not trample native plants in search of a letterbox or geocache.  If you see any litter while out on a trail, remember, “Cache In, Trash Out.”  This is part of an environmental beautification effort by geocachers worldwide.  When you find what you’re looking for – whether letterbox or geocache – be subtle.  You don’t want to ruin the surprise for others, and you definitely don’t want to draw the attention of folks who might not be letterbox- or cache- friendly.  Put everything back exactly where you found it and as you found it, and remember to record your find (or attempt) online!  See online communities and resources below for other code-of-conduct guidelines.

Have fun!
You may find yourself discovering new places you never knew existed in your own neighborhood, or trails you wouldn’t have otherwise visited. You can log your experiences at one of the many hobby websites.

letterboxing stamp (photo by Erin Lennon)
Stamp, inkpad, and notebook by a river, photo by Erin Lennon, State Parks

Resources and Relevant Links:

For geocache locations & rules: www.geocaching.com, www.earthcache.org, http://www.cachegeek.com/cache-listing-sites.html, and see various mobile apps (search “geocaching” in the app store for your smartphone).  For some services, you may need to create an account.  As a note, State Parks is not affiliated with any geocaching or letterboxing organizations.  And always check with landowners and local rules before creating new caches or routes.

For letterbox locations & rules: http://www.atlasquest.com/, http://www.letterboxing.org/

Policy for placing geocaches/letterboxes in NY State Parks: State Parks Geocache Guidance.

Keep in mind that cache/box locations and maintenance statuses are subject to change.  Here are a few State Parks and Historic Sites to begin your search for geocaches or letterboxes:

Geocache

Post by Erin Lennon, State Parks

 

Finding the Footpaths: Creating Trail Maps for New York State Parks

Almost every state park facility in New York has a trail system. As such, it is important that each park have a trail map so visitors can find their way around. Several steps go into creating a trail map including: talking with the park manager, going into the field, and analyzing the data.

The best way to obtain data is by using a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) unit. Parks uses the Trimble GeoXT, which makes a digital map as it collects points, documenting the route travelled as well as any important features. This particular unit comes with a backpack-mounted antenna to increase satellite reception, which is important in heavily wooded areas.

trimbles
Trimble GPS units. The GeoXT, on the right, creates a map in real time. The GPS captures lines and points, takes pictures and is water resistant.

The first step is to talk with the park manager about what he or she wants. It may be that the park has no trail map, only a small portion needs to be updated, or the park is seeking approval on a proposed route. Before heading out, the surveyor uploads reference data to the GPS including park boundary, existing trails and any other useful data. Then, they go the park and start hiking.

maddy 1
Maddy Gold collecting data in Clarence Fahnestock State Park.

In the field, it is important to document every trail, even if it is not an official trail. This is important for rescue teams trying to locate an injured person within the park. Other notable features to collect include: scenic views, picnic areas, restrooms, parking lots, bridges, eroded areas, blaze color, and more.

When the surveyor is confident they have collected all relevant data, they take the data back to the computer and put it into a program called GPS Pathfinder. This program corrects for any inaccuracies in satellite reception by matching the points against current imagery.

mapping 1
GPS Pathfinder Office with data and Differential Correction Wizard. This software corrects for satellite discrepancies and produces the most accurate data possible.

The last step is to put the corrected data into GIS (Geographic Information Systems). This program allows the surveyor to produce a map using the features recorded on the GPS. With all the information about the park in hand, the surveyor sends a draft of the trail map to the park manager. When the park manager is satisfied, the map can be published for use by the public.

mapping 2
ArcGIS window showing the shape file for the state of New York.

Post by Maddy Gold, OPRHP SCA Intern.