The Arizona State Trust Land Department officially banned geocaching on their grounds last year, saying the outdoor recreation violates state policy against litter, according to Eric Schudiske, spokesman for Groundspeak, operators of the Geocaching website that provides a centralized repository of caches nationally.
Hundreds of thousands of geocaches in the state are in jeopardy of never being found again due to the ban, Schudiske said.
“There’s been a big rift between (the state) and the geocaching community,” Schudiske said.
Geocaching (geo-cashing) is a recreational sport where participants use GPS devices to locate hidden treasures placed in the wild. Small containers are hidden containing a logbook and trinket for visitors. Participants then usually trade an item of equal value to leave for the next geocacher to discover.
Arizona is in the top tier of geocaching states in the country, sitting at No. 8 for the quantity of hidden hoards dispersed throughout the desert. According to Schudiske, Arizona has about 30,011 registered caches, about 1,000 behind No. 7 New York.
“They looked at the fine print and banned it,” Arizona geocacher Russell Fitzpatrick said. After looking more closely to state trust land recreational permit applications, one of their terms and conditions states, “You must completely remove all litter and refuse.”
“By policy, one of the things you can’t do is leave things on trust land and by its very nature, geocaching does that,” Bill Boyd, legislative policy administrator for the state trust land said. “The purpose of state trust land is to generate revenue, not for recreation.”
Since 1863, the federal government has dedicated millions of acres to the Arizona territory and then eventually to the state to benefit K-12 schools as well as other public uses, such as hospitals, the University of Arizona, military institutes and prisons. The land, comprising about 12 percent of Arizona, is leased and sold for grazing, mining and other uses to generate about $260 million a year for the public institutions and to build a permanent endowment, now at about $4.5 billion.
The state allows recreation users to get permits to travel on trust land for hiking, horseback riding, picnicking, bicycling, photography, sightseeing, camping and bird watching. Users, however, are prohibited from leaving roads or trails, and from depositing any “refuse” or “other foreign objects.” Annual individual permits are $15, while family permits go for $20.
Fitzpatrick said the geocaching community is environmentally conscious and is not the state land’s biggest problem.
“Everyone else leaves stuff behind,” geocacher Fitzpatrick said. “They leave their garbage, their shooting shells and the stuff we leave behind is not trash. They’re well hidden and you’ve got to know what you’re looking for.”
Fitzpatrick, who lives in Casa Grande, has been geocaching for about 12 years.
“And now, us geocachers just aren’t going to buy passes anymore,” Fitzpatrick said. “We just won’t go out there because there’s no reason to go out there anymore. They shot themselves in the foot with that.”
Fitzpatrick said Groundspeak closely evaluates each cache before approving them. He said it is not uncommon for them to deny a cache after users put in a request containing coordinates of the cache, size and objects inside.
“Sometimes Groundspeak gets back to people and say, ‘Now, wait a minute, you can’t put it there. It’s too close to the railroad tracks or it’s too close to a highway.’” Fitzpatrick said. “They check them out carefully before they get approved.”
He said Groundspeak is also cautious of overpopulation and has a tenth of a mile minimum for caches so they aren’t too close to one another. “If they get approved, it’s for a reason,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick wrote to Gov. Doug Ducey in April asking the state to allow geocaching on state trust land. He received an automated e-mail acknowledging his concerns, but has not been personally contacted.
Arizona Sonora News contacted the governor’s office for comment but got no response.
“City parks, state parks and BLM (Arizona Bureau of Land Management) are very accommodating,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s only the silly state trust people.”
“We are happy to let people enjoy it,” said BLM spokesman Dennis Godfrey. “People need to get permission, be we encourage it.”
Geocacher newbie Alison McKearney said geocaching is not a nuisance.
McKearney has been geocaching in Tucson for about a year and has 20 finds under her belt.
“There are so many people out there who found that geocache before you, and there will be a ton who find it after you,” McKearney said. “But, there are even more people who are oblivious that there’s a tin Dentyne Ice container that has a magnet glued to it and affixed to a metal structure that thousands of people walk by every day.”
Juliana Romeo is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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