One warm night last summer, Darryl Wattenberg and Drie Scholl stepped out of their Troy apartment and walked to a nearby No Parking sign where Wattenberg reached up and retrieved a magnetic canister no bigger than a thumbnail. He carefully unscrewed the top, pulled out a ribbon of paper, and replaced it with a new one.
Forty people had written their names and the dates of when they discovered this “nano cache” on the strip. They found the location using GPS coordinates and clues posted on geocaching.com, a website that provides tech-savvy adventurers with modern treasure hunts.
Started in 2000 by a Web developer in Seattle, geocaching.com has attracted an international following, with more than 4 million users worldwide. And Detroit is no exception to the site’s growing popularity. Throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, metro Detroiters have planted more than 3,000 caches — treasure troves of all shapes and sizes consisting of at least a logbook and often containing tradable tokens.
But for many cachers, the activity is more about the hunt than the treasure. The adventure-seekers often leave caches in areas that interest them, from hiking trails to the Detroit riverfront, so others can share the experience.
“One of the great things is, we have learned about so many places that we didn’t even know about before caching,” Wattenberg says. Scholl, his girlfriend of 15 years, discovered Huber Park in Troy during one of the couple’s caching expeditions and now returns to it when she wants to escape the city.
Others, however, have found new reasons to head downtown. Mark Rumble, a Shelby Township resident, was warned never to go into Detroit by his parents growing up. As an adult, Rumble maintained that mentality, making his way into the city only to catch a Tigers or Red Wings game.
“If it wasn’t for geocaching, I’d probably still be in the mindset that there’s nothing good in the City of Detroit,” says Rumble, who has found more than 3,800 caches. “Now if I see caches that are published down there, I’ll grab my GPS and go in a heartbeat.”
Besides getting people out of the house and into their surroundings, geocaching.com has become a social networking site of sorts, giving participants an opportunity to meet others with common interests.
“We use it mostly to go out and meet new people,” says Scholl, who organized a caching conference with Wattenberg in Troy that attracted 400 people. “Some of our best friends are people we’ve met through geocaching.”
Back at their apartment, Scholl estimates 100 people have found their magnetic micro cache since they first hid it in 2006. And, like geocaching, “It just kind of blossomed,” she says.