HANCOCK COUNTY — Coy Hutcherson and his family fancy themselves to be modern day treasure hunters.
The family of six often spend their free time searching for hidden treasure, using only mapping coordinates — and a handy mobile app — as their guide.
The Hutchersons are among a number of Hancock County residents who have a passion for geocaching, which National Geographic refers to as a “global treasure hunt.”
Using Global Positioning System coordinates, geocachers log onto an app or website like geocaching.com to find a list of geocaches hidden nearby.
Most “caches” include a log in which treasure hunters can jot down their name or geocaching handle, along with their city. Many cachers log their finds online at geocaching.com, along with their geocaching handle, and watch with pride as their number of successful finds grows.
Oftentimes, hidden caches include little trinkets like small toys, coins or keychains stuffed inside a film canister or other waterproof container. The unspoken code states that if you take a treasure, you leave another of equal or greater value for someone else to find.
“It’s bad form to take something and not replace it,” said Hutcherson, 38, whose family takes a “swag bag” of little treasures with them to do just that.
Hidden geocaches are commonly camouflaged, so as to avoid detection from non-geocachers.
“People who don’t geocache are called muggles,” said Hutcherson, referring to the same nickname for non-wizards in the Harry Potter franchise.
Thrill of the hunt
Greenfield couple Brian and Kate Staples and their 9-year-old son, Ziggy, enjoy geocaching.
So does Susie Highly of McCordsville, an avid cacher who has found more than 2,500 caches over the years.
Highly helped organize a group of like-minded women called Girls in Geocaching, or GIGS, which draws members from throughout the greater Indianapolis area. The group has since expanded to include men.
They often meet for dinner and sometimes seek out a geocache or two as a group. They love to exchange stories of the latest geocaching adventures.
“There are some geocaches where you have to scuba dive or take a boat or a kayak. I haven’t done too many of those,” said Highly, but she has joined a group who kayaked to a couple of geocache sites on islands within Geist Reservoir.
While some caches feature a paper log and hidden treasure, others simply lead to a unique site or beautiful location.
The caches often lead to someplace quirky and fun, like the world’s largest ball of paint in Alexandria, Ind.
“There used to be a toilet seat museum in San Antonio that some geocachers from Irvington told me about,” said Highly, who made the trip to the makeshift museum to check the unique stop off her list.
Some geocaches are hidden virtually, especially in places where hiding a log or treasure is forbidden, like on federal property. In those cases, cachers are prompted to answer questions to prove they’ve visited the spot.
Some geocaches, known as earth caches, include geological facts about an area.
“A lot of times a geocache will take you to beautiful places you might not have found otherwise, like the wetlands in Beckenholdt Park (in Greenfield). There’s more of an education side to it,” said Hutcherson, who particularly enjoys those types of finds.
Highly said all sorts of geocaches are hidden throughout Hancock County, with the most frequented being the giant pink elephant statue in Fortville.
“Thousands of people have gone there because it’s a geocache,” she said.
There’s also several geocaches hidden throughout downtown Indianapolis, including Monument Circle and the canal.
On Sunday, July 10, Hutcherson and his family — wife Amber and their kids Mia, 14, Guyton, 12, and 7-year-old twins Reagan and Paisley — followed GPS coordinates to find a geocache hidden alongside the Pennsy Trail.
“It’s like an adventure,” Guyton said.
Highly said geocaching is an inexpensive hobby you can do pratically anywhere.
“It’s something fun you can do while traveling anywhere in the world or practically in your backyard. You can be notified if a new cache is hidden within 10 or 20 miles of your home,” she said.
The Staples were first introduced to geocaching by a friend in Greenfield’s Riley Park.
The couple introduced their son to geocaching during the height of the COVID pandemic, which they said was a perfect family activity during lockdown.
“We needed to get out of the house, and it was something we could do outdoors,” said Kate Staples, whose son enjoys treasure hunting as well as the technical side of geocaching, leading each expedition with his dad’s phone in hand.
“Geocaching is a great family activity because it gives kids a goal,” she said.
Amber Hutcherson said that while her family doesn’t do all-day geocaching as much as they used to, her kids still enjoy tracking down nearby geocaches on a whim, wherever they may be.
“We’ve seen some really cool places we wouldn’t have seen without geocaching,” she said, “like a rock formation behind some buildings in Cozumel.”
The Hutchersons are hardcore geocaching enthusiasts, having located just under 3,000 caches and hidden over 120 since picking up the hobby in the summer of 2011.
Coy Hutcherson stumbled upon the pastime when he noticed an interesting-looking container near a cemetery by his aunt’s house. When he discovered it was a hidden cache, he promptly downloaded a geocaching app and let the treasure hunting begin.
Soon thereafter he found a cache hidden alongside the Pennsy Trail, so he made a beeline for it and found it. He’s been hooked ever since.
He and his wife have found geocaches in 40 states and six different countries, as well as all 92 counties in Indiana.
Their family once fulfilled a challenge to find at least one geocache every day for a year.
While the kids no longer enjoy hours-long quests like they used to, Hutcherson said they still love tracking down geocaches when the family is out and about. They always make sure to find a few whenever they travel, and often invite fellow enthusiasts to meet up through a geocaching app that connects cachers all over the world.
Coy and Amber Hutcherson once joined a group of nine other cachers who loaded into two vehicles and went on a geocaching quest spanning across seven states in 53 hours. Among their favorite stops was in Mingoe, Kan., at the site of the oldest geocache in the world.
Highly made more than 2,000 of her 2,500 geocache finds with a friend, Debbie Wolinsky, who has since passed away.
The retired teachers made a game of seeking out as many caches as they could find.
“She and I took all 92 counties in Indiana. We’d take road trips and do a bunch in Ohio and Kentucky and some in Michigan,” said Highly.
She and Hutcherson both say Jay Biron of Greenfield is one of the most active geocachers in the area, having found more than 6,500 and hidden 64.
“He was very helpful to us when we were first getting started,” said Hutcherson.
Highly said geocachers are a tight-knit group and happy to meet up with others who embrace the pastime.
“There are some people in Beech Grove who host a big picnic every year. This year, there were 45 people who attended,” said Highly, who stays connected through the Indy Area Geocachers group on Facebook.
To share her love of geocaching, she once set up geocaches around the school where she taught for her students.
“It taught them to follow directions but also how to figure things out. You get this ‘aha’ moment when you find what you’re looking for,” she said. “It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
To learn more about the sport of geocaching, visit geocaching.com.