Saturday, November 23, 2013

Official opening of LBI GeoTrail leads to adventure for tourists and businesses

The official opening of the LBI GeoTrail was a major hit for tourists and local businesses on Saturday, Nov. 16. The outdoor treasure-hunting game, which uses a handheld GPS-device to lead participants to a specific location, attracted more than 150 visitors ages 2 to 80 in search of hidden canisters called geocaches, which hold unique objects people can obtain and observe.
Photo by Ryan Morrill
LBI resident Mary Ann Gutchigian demonstrates
how geocaching works on a GPS device.
The day kicked off with a pancake breakfast at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Brant Beach, where participants gathered to swap trackables, a collectible found on trails, and pick up their passports and coordinates for the game just before the trail was released for viewing at 9 a.m.
“There was a woman there who reached her 18,400th geocache find. That’s all geocachers think about,” said Mary Ann Gutchigian, a local resident who began lobbying for the LBI GeoTrail two years ago. “They’re collectors. Every weekend they’re looking for an event to go to so they can find more stuff,” she explained.
Many people also camped out on the Island, waiting for the trail to load onto their iPhones and Garmins so they could be the first to find the caches.
“Usually there’s a really cool item in there that they want, and if they’re the first to find it, they have the opportunity to take it,” Gutchigian explained. “There’s all these cool things people do to add value to their boxes and to add suspense to what’s going on,” she added.
Gutchigian became intrigued with the game when she stumbled
Photo by Mary Ann Gutchigian
LBI GeoTrail participants obtain a special coin.
upon geocaching.com, the official website for the real-world competition. She believed that creating an official trail on the Island would prove to be economically beneficial to the area, especially during the off-season since geocachers are known to do their searching in places with little disturbance.
“They’re not going to try to find stuff in the summer because it’s too crowded, and everyone will be asking what they’re doing. It’s a big headache,” said Gutchigian. “But they’ve been exposed to a beach they’ve never been to before, and they’re chomping at the bit to come back.”
Gutchigian eventually obtained support for the trail from the LBI Business Alliance and Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce, which helped fund the game.
There are currently 2,270,491 active geocaches and more than 6 million geocachers worldwide. The LBI GeoTrail includes 30 caches hidden across the Island from Barnegat Light to Holgate. The Island has the potential to hold about 150 caches, Gutchigian said.
The trail was set up by a group of members from Central Jersey Geocaching who prepared the boxes for the geocaches and made sure all game requirements were met. Many local establishments donated items to be hidden in the caches, and many more want them hidden near their property.
The last coordinate brought geocachers to a Wherigo cache, a toolset for creating and playing GPS-enabled adventures in the real world, enticing tourists to continue their journey around the Island.
“That was an excellent brainstorm for the woman who planned the trail, to send everybody back in the opposite direction, knowing they wouldn’t have time to do it and they’d want to come back and do it another day,” Gutchigian said.
Gutchigian’s belief that setting up a geotrail on the Island could provide extra income for local businesses during the “shoulder season” appeared to prove true as many of the weekend’s game players were seen dining at restaurants and shopping in stores all across the 18-mile island before the meet and greet at Nardi’s Tavern, where every chair was filled.
“They had a ball,” said Gutchigian. “They’re from all walks of life, and they came down and ate fudge and had chowder and drank beer and cruised around. They bought souvenirs and had a really great time and are looking forward to coming back. It’s a tremendous way to bring people to the Island,” she added.
Gutchigian is looking into getting more LBI geocoins, which are collectibles geocachers can view online and trade at meet and greets. All 150 coins made for the opening were distributed on Saturday.
“People will still come do the trail, but they’re way more excited if they know they’re going to get a coin,” Gutchigian explained.
The local resident hopes to set up another meet and greet early next month. Visit facebook.com/lbigeotrail to stay up to date with the latest happenings. Call Gutchigian at 609-947-1377 for more information.

— Kelley Anne Essinger

This article was published in The SandPaper.