In the city of Wilberforce, Ontario, a fast detour from the primary road will take you to a seven-foot-tall wood fork that sits on the level the place the highway splits into two—a literal fork within the highway.

Unfamiliar passers-by might imagine it’s a joke. But to locals, this landmark goes by the identify “Fork and Beans.” It has a logbook hidden inside its body and it’s one of many greater than 500 geocaches scattered round Wilberforce—the “Geocaching Capital of Canada,” because the city calls itself, and residential of one of the vital common geocaching excursions on this planet.

Geocaching put up playing cards are among the souvenirs offered within the “cache stash” in Wilberforce’s Agnew’s General Store. Image: Auto

The rise of Pokémon Go in 2016 introduced with it a surge of location-based out of doors video games on cell. Geocaching, which is akin to an out of doors scavenger hunt, makes use of GPS to find hidden caches with logbooks inside and predates the newest crop of augmented actuality video games; it was a fixture of web tradition on the flip of the millenium. Geocachers use both an app or a GPS-enabled gadget to seek for hidden containers (normally crammed with one thing like a pocket book) which can be close by or that they’ve sought out on-line.

According to Geocaching HQ, an organization that created one of many largest web sites for the geocaching group in 2000, there are at the moment greater than three million of those caches hidden in additional than 190 international locations all over the world.

For Wilberforce, geocaching is greater than a recreation from again when a low-res dancing child was the peak of on-line leisure. It’s a rising business, with new caches being hidden and particular occasions organized yearly, that’s serving to hold the city afloat amidst financial struggles.

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Wilberforce is within the coronary heart of cottage nation on the jap fringe of Haliburton County, within the municipality of Highlands East, and has a everlasting inhabitants of 400 in response to the mayor of Highlands East, Dave Burton. Its downtown core has a diner, a curling rink, a sometimes-spotty mobile phone sign, and an elementary college with a graduating class of simply 15 college students final June. It’s one of many seven cities within the space that make up the “Geocaching Capital of Canada.”

Mary Barker is a lifelong resident of Wilberforce, and the explanation for its classic internet-tinged pitch to vacationers. She’s run the city’s put up workplace for the previous 15 years, taking up for her father who ran it for 52 years prior. She found geocaching within the fall of 2005 after taking a one-day course in GPS navigation at Fleming College’s Haliburton campus.

After discovering one geocache in Wilberforce in 2005, Mary Barker has grown the realm as a vacation spot for geocachers, with greater than 500 caches at the moment hidden. Image: Author

That day, Barker was stunned to seek out that there was a geocache situated in Wilberforce. After discovering the cache, which was in a metallic can hidden by native cottagers a few yr earlier, Barker had a flash of inspiration.

“We learn the logs and there had been over 100 folks that had quietly come into city, discovered this [cache], and never accomplished something harmful,” Barker instructed me between sorting mail and chatting with locals getting their packages at Wilberforce’s put up workplace. “I am considering, ‘did these folks eat within the restaurant? Did they arrive into the shop?’”

Barker started to consider what geocaching may do for her group. “[Wilberforce] has at all times wished to be the capital of one thing,” she instructed me. Nearby Eagle Lake is the self-described rhubarb capital of Ontario, and Bancroft is the mineral capital of Canada, despite the fact that locals consider Highlands East’s mineral accumulating websites and geology make it extra deserving of the title, in response to Barker.

“Why cannot we be the geocaching capital of Canada?” she mentioned. “Why cannot we declare that, simply the identical as everyone else claims to be one thing?’”

After checking to see if some other place had given themselves the title, Barker obtained funding from the municipality, the Haliburton County Development Corporation, and the Algonquin Gateway Business Association (AGBA) to place “Geocaching Capital of Canada” signage in town indicators of Wilberforce and the six neighbouring hamlets of Irondale, Gooderham, Tory Hill, Harcourt, Highland Grove, and Cardiff.

Tupper T. Turtle is the official mascot of the Geocaching Capital of Canada. Barker had her daughter create the drawing of Tupper. Image: Author

Highlands East Mayor Dave Burton was president of the AGBA when the indicators went up in 2006, and remembers some locals being confused concerning the designation on the time. “I had lots of people ask me what the heck [geocaching] was, and so they have been having a tough time saying it,” he instructed me. “I had accomplished a bit little bit of analysis to see precisely what it was. I assumed, what a spot for it right here, we now have a lot outdoor.”

Geocaching started within the yr 2000 when one Dave Ulmer hid a container of junk within the Portland woods and introduced the situation on a USENET group. From there, the sport of hiding stuff in the true world and letting folks on-line discover it unfold via early web sites, mailing teams, and so forth. These days, anybody can join a free account on Geocaching.com, a longstanding hub for the geocaching group that went on-line in 200, which additionally tracks your geocaching stats and permits you to touch upon particular caches and take part in boards.

Before the times of Reddit and Facebook, geocaching was a manner for folks to kind group on-line at a time when social networks weren’t multinational companies. Today, Wilberforce is making an attempt to attract on the community-building energy of on-line geocaching communities to lure vacationers into their tiny city. To do that, Barker has created some particular occasion caches to convey folks from everywhere in the province collectively in Wilberforce.

For instance, In 2015 Barker teamed up with Wilberforce resident Joanne Vanier to boost funds for a GeoTour—a group of as much as 150 caches laid out to be present in sequence. The objective of a geocacher finishing a GeoTour is to seek out all of its caches, whereas the objective for the host of a GeoTour is to attract in vacationers and guests to the realm of the tour.

The Geocaching Capital of Canada GeoTour that Barker and Vanier created is at the moment the most well-liked in Canada, in response to Geocaching.com, and the third hottest on this planet primarily based on the quantity of “favorite factors” it has obtained from geocachers.

I went out to seek out some caches in Wilberforce. Image: Author

As exemplified by the seven-foot Fork and Beans cache (quantity 110 of 150 on the tour) the caches that Barker and Vanier created are elaborate, handcrafted designs. They typically require some kind of recreation or puzzle to be accomplished—loads completely different from the container or empty water bottle with a logbook inside that many geocachers are used to discovering.

In my time geocaching in Wilberforce on a chilly, sunny March afternoon, I went from a Little Red Riding Hood-themed cache, to 1 that’s unlocked by the notes of a xylophone, to 1 that challenged me to unravel a rudimentary puzzle that saved Tupper T. Turtle—the Geocaching Capital of Canada mascot—from being made into soup.

Minus a few caches donated to the tour, the entire GeoTour’s 150 caches have been created by Barker and Vanier with the assistance of their husbands and a neighborhood woodworker.

“Sometimes you simply have one thing, some toy, and also you take a look at it and go, ‘How can I flip that right into a cache?’” Barker mentioned. “I do not wish to simply put out peanut butter jars, I wish to make it form of completely different.”

The “Let’s Make Music” cache requires geocachers to play a track on a xylophone as a way to decide the proper three-digit code wanted to unlock the log ebook. Image: Author

In May, downtown Wilberforce would be the start line for the “Amazing Nursery Rhyme Race” occasion cache, which is able to see members journey everywhere in the municipality to finish “a gruelling journey via the world of nursery rhymes.”

Recently, vacationer points of interest like geocaching and mineral excursions have meant much more to the Highlands East space as a manner to attract folks and cash into the group. In January 2017, the Scotiabank in Wilberforce—the one financial institution within the municipality—closed down. According to Burton, the financial institution closing “was an enormous blow” to the native economic system.

“What occurs is that folks will go to Bancroft to do their banking and so they’ll do their buying there as effectively, in order that they’re not buying on the town,” he mentioned.

As the tour has grown in recognition, Burton believes it has benefited companies within the space. “I do consider [geocachers] will are available [to town] and presumably get their drinks, get their snacks… get no matter memento [or] no matter they might need from the final retailer,” he mentioned.

Some native companies have made adjustments to draw geocaching prospects. Wilberforce’s Agnew’s General Store, which was beforehand owned by Barker’s household, has opened a “Cache Stash” providing souvenirs and provides to geocachers. The city’s vacationer data centre provides GPS leases for 5 a day. Even the South Algonquin Diner on the town provides a “Geoburger” on their menu.

Wilberforce’s Agnew’s General Store opened a “cache stash” behind the shop to promote souvenirs and provides to geocachers within the space. Image: Author

“For us to exist right here we now have to be artistic and [geocaching] is one thing that we’re very artistic in doing, and it has labored out effectively for us,” Burton mentioned.

Along with the reception and suggestions of native companies, the response to the GeoTour from geocachers themselves has been reassuring.

Daryl Almond is a geocacher from Ottawa who’s been participating within the pastime for 14 years. In that point, he’s discovered greater than 20,000 caches in 24 completely different international locations. So far he’s devoted three days to the Geocaching Capital of Canada GeoTour in Wilberforce, discovering 120 caches. He plans on returning someday in April to seek out the rest.

“I don’t assume they may have accomplished a greater job of promoting a calling card to the realm,” Almond mentioned. “They’ve caught on to one thing, they’re making this a vacation spot.”

This sort of suggestions has motivated Barker to proceed to advertise native geocaching.

“Even although we have been up half the evening struggling to make this factor, or we won’t get it to work, or need to exit and do repairs on it, we come residence and we learn these logs that they are writing and so they’re so good and so they’re so appreciative of the caches, so it makes all of it worthwhile.”

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