The Columbia Parks & Recreation Department permits Geocaching and Letterboxing in keeping with its mission to preserve and interpret Columbia’s heritage and to provide opportunities for safe recreational activities. The purpose of this policy is to establish management guidelines for geocaching and letterboxing, so as to minimize impact on the parks, recreational facilities, and natural and cultural resources managed by the Department.
For purposes of this policy, the following guidelines should be followed.
- Treasure containers are not to be placed in recreational areas such as golf courses, athletic fields, swimming areas or in sensitive archaeological, historical, or ecological areas, such as historical buildings and parks, caves, or locations that contain rare or endangered plant species.
- Treasure containers are not to be placed in areas that require digging or disturbing the soil to place the container or in landscaped areas that would require visitors to trample plants in order to access the container.
- Containers are not to be placed in areas that could potentially cause danger to visitors trying to locate the container, i.e. climbing on cliffs/bluffs, underwater or in potential flood areas, in trees, shelters, roof structures, etc.
- Containers are not to be placed in areas likely to cause public concern. These areas include most bridges, shelters, playgrounds, and other areas where the public gathers.
- If any park staff determines that the location of a container poses a risk to park visitors, the owner is to be contacted and asked that the container be moved to a safer location.
- Geocaching – Geocaching (pronounced gee-o-cashing) is a high-tech treasure hunting game for GPS (Global Positioning Systems) users. The basic idea is to have individuals/organizations place containers (referred to as geocaches) all over the world and share the latitude and longitude coordinates of these caches on the Internet. GPS users can then use the location coordinates to get within several or more feet of the cache location depending on the accuracy and range of the GPS model used. Once near the location, they must search the area to find the caches. Some geocaches also include direction and hints (sometime encrypted) to help users find the cache. Most geocaches contain inexpensive trinkets. Once found, if the user takes a trinket, they should leave another of equal value its place. Geocachers should record their find both in the cache logbook and on the Geocaching web-page.
- Letterboxing – Letterboxing is an artistic type of hide-and-seek which involves the exchange of rubber stamp images (rather than trinkets) and uses a variety of clues rather than latitude-longitude coordinates. The basic idea is for individuals/organizations to hide a container (referred to as a letterbox) with a logbook and a rubber stamp (both often hand-made), write clues to the location and enter the clues on the Internet. Clues may be simple directions or include maps, compass bearings, riddles, puzzles, ciphers, and more. Letterboxers can then obtain these clues and attempt to locate the box. Unlike GPS coordinates, most letterbox clues, when correctly interpreted, lead seekers directly to the box’s exact location. Seekers bring with them a personal logbook, a rubber stamp (usually hand-carved), an inkpad and a pen/pencil. Once found, the seekers use the rubber stamp in the box to stamp their personal logbook (like getting a passport stamped) then stamp their own stamp into the box’s logbook (like signing a guestbook). Nothing is to be removed from the letterbox with one exception: sometimes the box will include trinkets clearly labeled as prizes for the first few finders to take. Unlike geocaches, the finders should not add contents to the box. Seekers should record a note in the logbook and then contact the placer via the appropriate letterboxing website. The two best known websites are Letterboxing and Atlas Quest. Local users may also use Mid Missouri Letterboxers.
- Treasure Container – Since geocaching and letterboxing have noticeable differences, where appropriate the generic term “treasure container,” or simply “container,” may be used in this policy instead of “cache” or “box” especially when referring to policies or terms that apply to both geocaches and letterboxes. Containers may be ammo boxes, plastic food storage boxes, Ziploc bags, waterproof plastic buckets with lids, or other containers usually designed to be water-resistant to help protect the contents. Most geocaches and letterboxes contain logbooks. Geocaches also usually include a pen/pencil. Letterboxers are usually expected to bring their own pens/pencils. Geocaches usually contain trinkets to trade; letterboxes contain a rubber stamp that stays with the box. Most letterboxes require you to bring your own ink.
- Hybrid – It is important to note that geocaching and letterboxing use separate websites and usually appeal to two different groups of people, but occasionally a container will be planted in which both GPS coordinates and written clues are posted. These containers must contain a rubber stamp that remains with the box and may nor may not have trinkets to be traded.
- Trail name / User nickname – Part of the mystique of both geocaching and letterboxing is that people tend to choose a trail name or nickname (similar in nature to a trucker’s CB “handle”) rather than using their real name when creating an account on the respective activity websites.
- Multi-cache / Power trail – (a geocaching term). There are several variations of multicaches. The most common is where multiple geocaches are located from information received from the previous container. Another popular variant is a series of multiple waypoints, each of which provide partial coordinates for the final cache location. A third variant, sometimes called a Power Trail, is when several caches are designed to be found as a group. Most multi-caches are specified as such on the Internet.
- Series / bonus box(es) – (a letterboxing term) for the purposes of this policy a series includes two or more letterboxes placed by the same person or group within a single area and designed to be obtained on the same hunt. Clues may be posted individually or obtained from information from the previous box in which case they are referred to as bonus boxes. Bonus boxes may or may not be advertised on the Internet.
- Offset cache – (a geocaching term) GPS coordinates that do not specify the actual location of the cache but instead direct the visitor to a location to find a number stamped/written in or on an item at the location or once at the location, the user will continue the search according to instructions on the initial information received from the Geocaching web-page.
- Virtual cache / virtual letterbox – A virtual cache means there is no physical geocache container. It’s the location that is the cache itself. Nothing is normally traded, except photos and experiences. The geocaching website no longer permits new virtual cashes, though existing ones have been grand-fathered in. A virtual letterbox may be a physical location without a container or may be an internet site. Once proof of finding the virtual letterbox is submitted to the placer, stamped images maybe traded by e-mail or postal mail.
- Earthcache – a type of virtual cache approved by the Geological Society of America that features geological points of interest. Seekers must locate a site then complete some form of activity usually educational in nature, such as research answers to a question, providing photos, or conduct a field study in order to log the cache. The Earthcache submittal form and guidelines can be found on the program’s webpage.
- Event Caches/ Letterbox Gatherings –Event caches are gatherings open to all geocachers and organized by geocachers. Letterbox Gathering are gatherings organized by letterboxers for letterboxers. Both type of events may include the hiding and seeking of treasure containers (placed on either a temporary or long-term basis) for people to find. Other events are more social such as gathering for a picnic, and might not include any hide-or-seek. A geocacher can claim the event is “found” by attending the event then logging their “find” on the website. A Letterbox Gathering may have a special “event stamp” to collect available only by attending the event. Special rules apply for sponsoring events in Columbia city parks. Please contact the Department for more details.
- The treasure containers must display the words “Official Geocache” or “Official Letterbox” clearly on the outside of the container.
- The container must be family friendly. This means it must not contain food, alcohol, firearms, drugs, dangerous items or adult items. It must also not be placed to advertise any commercial business or, religious or political organization or viewpoints.
- An explanation of the geocaching or letterboxing activity is to be included in the container. Note that there are different notes for geocaches and letterboxes to reflect the differences in the activities. Please use only one, but not both, unless you have a hybrid box.