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As the cold weather moves out and spring tiptoes in, spending time outside is going to become more appealing.

With the temperatures soon to be on the rise (perhaps as soon as Saturday and Sunday), what better way to spend time outdoors than participating in an electronic treasure hunt crossed with a little bit of hide and seek — known as geocaching?

Geocaching uses Global Positioning Systems, or GPS units, to guide hikers on an ongoing hunt to find hidden treasures, or geocaches (pronounced geo-CASH-es). In our state, the Maryland Municipal League, or MML, started geocaching to promote awareness of and visits to Maryland’s cities and towns.

The ultimate goal of the MML geocache trail is to help stimulate economic development in Maryland’s municipalities, according to mdmunicipal.org.

Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett said the chapter of Harford and Cecil counties is the only chapter of the MML to have every municipality participate.

In Harford County, Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air are among the 78 participants, according to the MML Web site.

In Cecil County, Perryville and Port Deposit are taking part.

A geocache trail is a series of geocaches tied together by a common theme and the theme of the Maryland Municipal League Geocache Trail is Celebrating Maryland’s cities and towns.

To participate, a geocacher must access the official geocache Web site, www.geocaching.com, go to the MML account and download the map coordinates for each cache on the MML GEO Trail; then use the GPS to find the caches.

Any type of GPS can be used, even the GPS on a BlackBerry.

In addition to providing the GPS coordinates online, the Web Site also provides clues about each of the municipalities to uncover the box once you’re at the correct location.

Brigitte Layton, Havre de Grace marketing and tourism manager, said some of the clues online were contributed by others who have been to the site.

The geocaching Web site also has step-by-step instructions of how to find your first geocache.

The Web site outlines step one as research, step two as safety tips, step three as the hunt and step four as the actual find.

To locate the step-by-step instructions click on the Getting Started headline on the left hand side of the page and then click on the Learn How to Find a Geocache link.

Each of the municipalities participating received a box from MML to be filled with trinkets and information about the town. The municipality is responsible for choosing the location of the box and keeping it restocked.

Each of the visitors to the site can take a trinket from the box. It is also common practice for the visitor to leave something behind.

“We all get to share trinkets and so forth,” Bennett said.

A collectible, highly-coveted geocoin will be given to the first 500 geocachers who find a minimum of 22 city/town caches throughout the state.

To be eligible for the coin, geocachers must pick up a passport at any participating visitor center, use the stamp in each cache on their passports and write in the cache code word.

After at least two municipal caches in each district are discovered, geocachers may return to one of the county visitor centers and have their passports validated to receive a collectible coin.

The county’s three municipalities have attracted numerous visitors so far to the hidden caches.

In Aberdeen, Bennett said the geocache site has received about 80 visits as of a month ago.

“This part of the area has really gotten a lot of hits,” he said. “It is really an awesome thing.”

Bennett described geocaching as tourism with a purpose.

“The thing all municipalities love about it is it brings people into the cities and towns,” he said.

Bennett said the odds for those who are geocaching to stop at a local restaurant or shop are pretty high.

In the geocache box in Aberdeen, Bennett said the town had placed aluminum city coins in the box for people to take. The trinket was switched to city pens when the coins ran out.

He said the city is looking to get some of the local businesses to donate discount cards.

Geocaching has become all the rage and Bennett said he is thinking about getting a GPS to participate in the fun.

In Havre de Grace, one person has completed a geocache passport and received a geocoin.

“It is exciting all around to have the opportunity to go throughout Maryland and experience all of the different municipalities,” Layton said.

Layton said since the program kicked off in January there have been multiple people who have stopped by the visitor center to pick up a passport.

“It’s addicting,” Layton said. “It really has been a benefit to have on our ‘Things To Do’ list.”

Layton said it is also something fun to do while you are on vacation.

In Bel Air, Bob Syphard, senior planner for the town, said the town’s cache has attracted almost 90 visitors so far.

“We placed Bel Air bookmarks in the cache that direct finders to the Bel Air Armory to collect a special geocache discovery package,” he said.

So as the weather warms and you are itching to get outside, grab the family and the GPS and go hunting for your first geocache.

“It’s just a real neat touristy-type thing,” Aberdeen’s Mayor Bennett said.


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