Fear and laughing in North Central Ohio

Two stories, different results

In today’s Mansfield News Journal is a story about a geocache that had been placed in a public park with permission. Someone spotted a couple of geocachers at the scene, thought they looked suspicious and called authorities. If the article is accurate, the complainant called all manner of authorities. Out came the fire department, bomb squad, and investigators with their 8-by-10 glossy photographs with the circles and arrows. And of course, the media, with suspense-filled live feeds in the form of tweets on Twitter. Apparently, authorities are considering felony charges against the person who planted the geocache.

My friend Bill from Mansfield rightfully pointed out that this was a glowing example of the culture of fear in which we live. He didn’t come right out and say it but I think he was implying that this is the inevitable result of the kind of fear-mongering prevalent in politics and popular culture.

Here’s the same story from a year ago in Ashland County. Only things were handled differently:

Deputy Wood and the egg. T-G Photo by Tom Puskar

Deputy Wood and the egg. T-G Photo by Tom Puskar

(From the March 8, 2012, Ashland Times-Gazette)

Sheriff’s Deputy Randy Wood didn’t know “egg-xactly” what to make of it Saturday when he found a plastic Easter egg hidden in the base of a lamppost. He was even more puzzled when he opened it and found a list of dates and code names.

Wood was responding to a report of two people acting suspiciously in an area parking lot. (The Times-Gazette is not revealing the exact location for reasons that will become apparent.)

A woman called the Sheriff’s Office on her cell phone at 12:15 p.m. and reported seeing a man and a woman place something inside the base of a lamppost and drive off. The caller gave a brief clothing description: The woman was wearing a bright orange windbreaker and the male reportedly wore a black hoodie.

The caller remained at the scene and pointed out the location to Wood.

“I had no idea what it was,” Wood said. “The first thing I thought was it was some kind of drug deal.”

Wearing rubber gloves, he collected the egg for evidence and took it to the Sheriff’s Office. Wood opened the egg and found the list of names. When he showed it to a dispatcher, she immediately recognized it as a geocache.

For the uninitiated, this is an item hidden in connection with a popular hobby known as geocaching. As defined on geocaching.com, the official website, “Geocaching is a high-tech treasure-hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online.”

Once Wood realized what he had found, he took the egg back to where he had found it. He then radioed the dispatcher and reported, “The egg has been returned to the nest.”

For the Sheriff’s Office, the case was closed. But the Times-Gazette continued to investigate, tracking down the mystery woman in the bright orange jacket and her hooded accomplice.

Lake County resident Melody Keeper made a full confession. She and her son, Kurt Keeper, were the subjects described in the Sheriff’s Office report. Ironically, her son is a law enforcement officer.

Melody Keeper admitted she had committed a cardinal sin in the world of geocaching. Players are not supposed to wear anything or do anything to draw attention to themselves when approaching a cache.

“We were trying to use stealth, but that obviously didn’t work, especially with my bright orange coat,” Keeper said.

A log entry she made on the geocaching website corroborated her confession. It read: “We made a quick grab & go before heading to Columbus for a family birthday party. We were able to grab a nearby Munzee for another capture … The muggles in the truck that were embracing paid no attention to us.”

Translation, the family found the geocache while trying to avoid being spotted by a couple smooching in a nearby pickup truck. Unfortunately, they were noticed by a woman sitting in a car in the parking lot and she called the sheriff.

“Muggles” is a term borrowed from the Harry Potter stories. It refers to a non-geocacher who stumbles on a cache or catches geocachers in the act. To be “muggled” is to have your cache found or to be spotted by a muggle.

As for “Munzee?”

“That’s a whole ’nother game,” Keeper said.

Munzee is a variation of geocaching in which players use smartphones to capture preformatted QR codes they post in all sorts of places. QR codes are those ubiquitous black-and-white square blocks that look like the picture on your TV set when the signal starts to break up.

The Keepers are avid geocachers and have hidden their share of caches in Lake County and elsewhere. Their hunting party, which traveled through the area Saturday, included Melody, her husband, Carl, their son, Kurt and grandsons Ben, 8, and Devon, 5.

The Times-Gazette also tracked down the man who planted the geocache, Doug Price of Columbus. He was passing through Ashland on his way to Lorain in November when he hid the egg.

As Melody Keeper would put it, there’s a “whole ’nother” story behind the egg.

That story started when Price found a geocache dubbed “Easter Bunny’s Revenge.” It involved a container filled with 40 plastic eggs, only one of which had the logbook inside. That’s where people write their code names and dates when they find a cache.

Price duplicated the geocache and hid it in a park in Dublin. The cache was vandalized a couple times and, the last time he found it, all that was left were two different-colored egg halves.

“I happened to have them in the car when I stopped in Ashland,” Price said.

He put strips of paper inside to serve as a notebook, hid the egg in the base of a lamppost and announced the geocache online. It was first found Dec. 3. At least 40 other geocachers have come across it since, including the Keeper family.

And, of course, Deputy Wood.

It’s not unusual for geocaches — and an occasional geocacher — to end up in police custody.

“I’ve come upon a scene where police were there trying to figure out what was going on,” Price said.

In those cases, he just kept on driving.

Although it’s relatively rare, geocachers have run afoul of the law. Some have been arrested for trespassing and a few geocaches have generated a response from the local bomb squad. In fact, Disneyland was placed under lockdown for four hours Saturday morning after a geocache was discovered in a tree at the park entrance.

The hobby’s official website warns geocachers to avoid using containers that could be mistaken for homemade bombs and not to place them in high-security locations or public places that could induce panic. Geocachers also are advised to respect private property, which is why public parks are popular hiding places.

However, given the staggering number of players and geocaches, problems are few. Geocache.com marketing assistant Kelly Ranck told the Times-Gazette in an email Wednesday that there are more than 5 million geocachers around the world and more than 1.6 million active geocaches.

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4 thoughts on “Fear and laughing in North Central Ohio

    • Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a great place for it. As long as the caches aren’t placed on, say, a bridge abutment. The weird thing about the Mansfield incident was the one who planted it had permission. No one thought to call the park management? Also, isn’t it about time law enforcement learned about geocaching? It’s no friggin’ secret.

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      • RE: calling park management. Here’s a story for you. I was walking the dog up our lane one day and came upon a stash of lumber in the weeds to one side. It was new lumber and there was even a pail of nails with it. My first thought was that someone had stashed some materials to build a deer stand. Since we love to catch poachers, I called the park office to report it and see if they knew anything about it. Negative. They sent a ranger out who looked at the stash and verified that he was stumped. Then I thought that perhaps someone had stolen the lumber from my neighbor, who has a wood shop, so I called him over and the two of us assessed the stash. Not his…but he said he’d be happy to make it his, if I wanted him to. Ultimately, decided to let it ride for 24 hours and see what might happen. I wasn’t quite prepared, though, to return home from a short day trip the next day and find about 50 boy scouts camped in my driveway. Camped. In my driveway. With a mess tent and everything. Seems the wood was theirs…put there for their weekend project of building a new bridge on the Buckeye Trail, which at one point comes ridiculously close to our property. You’d think the park would know about a tiny little project like that, wouldn’t you? A couple of days later a ranger came out to the cabin to apologize to us for the screw up, and for not letting us know what was going on ahead of time. (but really, how could they let us know what was happening if they didn’t know what was happening?)Never a dull moment. Not even out here deep in the woods.

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  1. Pingback: ‘Geotrache’ | IRV OSLIN

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