MOUNT VERNON — The Knox County Park District has extended its GeoTrail Summer Challenge deadline past the end of this month to Nov. 1, allowing orienteering and treasure-hunting enthusiasts to find the hidden geocache boxes at all seven Knox County parks using GPS (Global Positioning System) devices.
The competition started July 9, the first-ever GeoTrail event hosted by the park district. The 36 people from both in and outside of Knox County who have completed all seven park geocaching challenges — the so-called GeoTrail — each received a commemorative GeoCoin. And there are still many more to give out by Nov. 1, as the Knox County Park District has planned to give out 100.
The first Knox County resident to complete the GeoTrail Summer Challenge, Jared McGlocklin, did so all in one day, on July 14. Starting at 6 a.m. and going until about 3 p.m., he located every hidden geocache box, some of them placed in hard-to-find locations like behind rocks or within trees.
First, McGlocklin visited the Knox County Park District website and downloaded bar code-accessible instructions for each geocache location. The bar codes were accessed with a QR code reader.
“They gave you a little description of each park, it was pretty cool how they set this up,” he said of the instructions provided by park district administrator Katie Hux. She worked on the county’s premier GeoTrail event with site administrators from the Geocaching application.
In doing all seven county parks in nine hours, it took McGlocklin just a little over one hour per park to find its geocache box, which had a logbook to sign as proof of discovery. Some GeoTrail enthusiasts use a smartphone with a geocaching application to find geocaches; another option is purchasing a handheld GPS unit, which is his preference. In succession, McGlocklin found the caches at Bat Nest Park, Honey Run Waterfall, Honey Run Highlands, Indianfield Bluffs, Hellbender Preserve, Wolf Run Regional Park, and Thayer Ridge Park.
The toughest to find was at Honey Run Waterfall, but that’s because the GPS coordinates provided were just slightly off, he said. The longest trek to find a cache was at Honey Run Highlands — a 1.5-mile hike one-way, he said. And the most physically challenging of all was at Thayer Ridge Park, a horse trail through the woods that, on that mid-July day, had parts of the trail inundated by mud as horses trampled over rain-filled pockets of the trail.
“My boots were covered in mud up to here,” he said, pointing near his knees.
McGlocklin, 30, who lives on Green Valley Road and likes to walk the loop trail around Ariel-Foundation Park, has been a Knox County resident since 2015. Originally from Bath, Pennsylvania, near Allentown, he is a mechanical engineer by trade who once worked for Rolls Royce in Mount Vernon and at Siemens, helping build large scale gas turbines. He earned a degree in aerospace engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida.
Currently, McGlocklin works as a lead site engineer for the Bently-Nevada Co., overseeing the vibration systems for projects ranging from small pump motors to large steam turbines. But one doesn’t have to be an engineer or necessarily even highly skilled at math to do well at GeoTrails and finding geocaches, he said. One just needs to like challenges, like nature and having a generally good sense of direction certainly helps.
“The one thing that geocaching really teaches people is how to navigate (along a route), using coordinates and (cardinal) directions,” he said. “And you kind of have to know how to ‘read’ nature.”
He explained that once he enters a county park and his GPS device points the way toward finding a geocache box, one can start to figure out where to go — such as by walking along a wooded path that coincides with the handheld’s directional locator.
McGlocklin was introduced to GeoTrails by a friend in 2011 by a friend he knew from college in Florida. He has found 1,700 geocaches to date spread throughout 19 states. It can be a solitary hobby but one with a real sense of accomplishment, he said, noting, “In all the times I’ve been on geotrails, I’ve only run into people two or three times who were on the same trail at the same time.”
Geocache boxes provide opportunities for people opening them to take a trinket or memento from the box, and replace it with “something of equal or greater value.” That is called “trading,” he said, and although McGlocklin doesn’t engage in trading, he does acknowledge it can be fun. One geocache box he opened contained a small, yellow rubber ducky — and a couple of plastic spider rings.