Dan Pool/ Photo
Jay and Angie Bird show off one of six geocache sites at the Talking Rock Nature Preserve. All the caches at the park were hidden with beginning geocachers in mind.
There would be a huge trove of witty headlines if Pickens residents Jay and Angie Bird had actually met through geocaching.
They didn’t. They first met about 20 years ago and then re-connected, the modern old-fashioned way – online.
So, of no use are headlines like Geocaching Your Way to My Heart or GPS Coordinates to Love.
But geocaching did become an integral part of their courtship – to the point Jay proposed by hiding a cache with the engagement ring for Angie to find, while leading her to believe they were shooting a video about geocaching.
Ah, romance is not dead, you just have to know where to look, in this case using an iPhone app and global positioning coordinates.
For those who don’t know, geocaching is a game/hobby of hunting for hidden items, sometimes just a small marker, using GPS coordinates from a website. You can use either a handheld GPS or any current cell phone and a free app.
The romantic possibilities developed as a fun way to date for Jay and Angie. Jay said he had done a couple of geocache hunts and found them “interesting” but wasn’t hooked. Angie had never heard of it and found it a little strange when Jay mentioned it. On a road trip the couple took early in their relationship, they discovered there were numerous geocache sites along the route and fascination bloomed.
The couple started trying to find at least one geocache in each state. Finding the caches on that and later road trips brought them to several interesting, though lesser known, tourist spots such as the world’s largest cedar bucket, the largest six pack of beer (in Wisconsin). They summited the highest point in Florida, at roughly 200 feet, in the hunt for one cache.
Angie described the dating angle as a great low-key activity for a couple to get outside, have some fun, see sites, while working as a team on a challenge. And she notes it is very inexpensive and much more entertaining than a traditional date night at the movies.
Geocaches are required to be put in public places with the permission of owners. Many do not require leaving the parking lot of a spot, others are in stop signs and the cracks of buildings (one is in the Ingles parking lot in Jasper). Some may require walking, but none should involve peril.
They are not quests where you will be macheting your way through a jungle or scaling a cliff, Angie said. The geocaching.com app/website offers a description of each one posted by whoever planted the cache, so searchers get a good idea of what each involves and maybe a few cleverly worded clues.
Jay and Angie, who might be the First Couple of Jasper Geocaching, have hidden several caches in the Talking Rock Nature Preserve. On September 6th they gave a brief demonstration after this reporter met them at a picnic area in the 220 acre park across the four-lane from Bigun’s BBQ.
Using Jay’s basic iPhone, he logged onto the app and found the description of one of the sites. The phone showed the direction the cache lay from the picnic table and an approximate distance (about 14 feet). We then followed the arrow on the phone as the distance decreased. A clue in Jay’s description mentioned a rock. As we reached the point indicated by the phone, a prominent rock was evident in a clear patch of the woods.
Underneath the rock, a plastic tube contained park stickers for all finders to take one. People occasionally leave their own “treasures” when they find a site. Jay and Angie leave foam hearts with their initials.
The Birds have hidden six caches in the park – three are “published;” three were still pending as of Friday. Jay said geocaching.com will sometimes verify information and possibly even send a volunteer to make sure the site is safe and public.
The sites at the Talking Rock Nature Preserve can be found walking the trails, though most are near the different parking areas, and someone with limited mobility could do very little walking to get to all but one.
All geocache sites have a difficulty rating. Those in the Talking Rock Nature Preserve are all rated easy. Angie said they want these to be good beginner ones to build up the geocache community here.
From their experience, the Birds said geocaching sites may draw a little traffic, but a better advantage of having sites nearby is it gets people to stop their car, get out and look around. They cited some small towns that will put geocaches in their parks or at historic locations. They don’t draw a lot of people, but those who come will get out and visit.
Bill Jones, the director of the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land, the group that owns and manages the Talking Rock park, said the geocaches are a great addition to the park that everyone can enjoy. “Geocaching is a free, fun and interesting way to be out in nature,” he said, adding that he hopes they regularly expand and add fresh sites to keep it fun for local geocachers and to draw visitors to the community.
The busiest geocache they knew of was one in Gatlingburg that is found seven or eight times a day. They also knew of one Jay hid in west Pickens that has only be visited three times in the past year. Geocaching.com lists more than 3 million caches worldwide. Click here for nearby geocashes.