Geocachers across Arizona are celebrating today after an executive action by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey recognized their activity and made it legal, with certain rules, on state land.
Geocaching is an outdoor game that involves placing objects in small containers, marking their exact coordinates with a handheld GPS receiver, and leaving them for others to find. A couple of years ago, state bureaucrats deemed geocache prizes "litter" and banned the practice from Arizona's 9.2 million acres of state-owned land, says Mel Hockwitt, a Tucson geocacher who pushed officials to make the change. The anti-litter geocaching community promptly located about 4,000 stashes on state land and picked them up.
Participants were upset about it at the time, but now "a lot of people are ecstatic" at the new rules, Hockwitt says.
Under the new rules:
* Anyone using state land, including geocachers, must still obtain the proper permit. For geocachers, that would be a $15 recreational permit good for one year.
* The state accepts no responsibility or liability for anything having to do with the geocaches, and it retains the right to destroy or remove them at any time, without notification.
* Objects placed on state land "must pose little to no impact to the landscape. Natural objects may not be altered, plants may not be removed, trash must be carried out, and there must not be any ground disturbance."
* Objects can't be larger than a "typical" shoe box and must contain no hazardous substances.
* The State Land Department will work with the geocaching community to ensure all state-land rules are followed and that no trash or litter is left behind.
Hockwitt says geocachers pride themselves on taking out any litter they see while on their forays — it's part of what they do. Geocaches aren't litter because the location of every one is noted somewhere, he points out.
Geocaches may be found just off hiking trails, in the middle of trackless desert, at the bottom of a lake or on a cliff edge that can be accessed only by rappelling, he says. The canisters containing sheets of paper for people to sign or small prizes can be as small as a bullet casing. Participants find them by learning clues to their positions. Sometimes the prize can be valuable.
"I took my son one time — we found a baseball that was autographed by members of the Yankees," Hockwitt says.
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Ducey, in a written statement, says he's made "eliminating pointless, bureaucratic regulations that hinder Arizonans a top priority."
Hockwitt is credited with working with state Senator Steve Smith to lift the ban. Ducey's office hashed out the details with state Land Commissioner Lisa Atkins, who called the new policy a "win-win for everyone."
“I am excited that we were able to resolve this administratively and legislation was not needed to correct a policy from the previous Land Commissioner that ultimately hurt geocaching in Arizona," Smith says." This further demonstrates the power of the people’s voice. Geocachers provide a great service to Arizona by cleaning up trust land while exploring the beauty of Arizona.”