Geocaching has gained in popularity and the Fulton County Public Health Department saw an opportunity to tie public health to the scavenger hunt adventure. “I discovered geocaching when my oldest daughter was young. It allowed us to enjoy the outdoors and explore our region together,” said Fulton County Director of Public Health, Dr. Irina Gelman.
The Fulton County Public Health Department is an Adirondack Rural Health Network (ARHN) partner. A program of AHI, ARHN is a multi-stakeholder, regional coalition that informs on planning assessment, provides education and training to further the NYS DOH Prevention Agenda, and offers other resources that support the development of the regional health care system. ARHN includes members from New York’s Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Warren, and Washington counties.
What is Geocaching?
To geocache, participants hunt for a hidden container by using a smartphone or GPS device to navigate to provided coordinates. According to Courtney Shaler Smith, ARHN manager, “Geocaching has caught on worldwide. What’s particularly appealing is participants are actively involved in searching for the cache, which promotes physical fitness.”
The Fulton County Department of Public Health and Geocaching
“We saw physical, social and educational opportunities with geocaching, which is a perfect fit for public health,” said Dr. Gelman. With an appeal to a broad spectrum of participants, geocaching bridges the generation gap. “Technology is engrained in our daily lives and the interactive component is engaging all ages,” said Dr. Gelman.
The Fulton County Department of Public Health promotes geocaching and the coordinates on its Facebook page. With several geocaches in the Fulton County area, people also learn of the Fulton County location through a free Geocaching app. “After following the coordinates, and discovering our hidden container, we reward participants with health information,” said Dr. Gelman.
The cache container includes a log book and items such as a refrigerator magnet with facts on ticks or emergency preparedness pamphlets with local emergency numbers. “What’s been fun is that we suggest that folks take something from the container and leave something,” shared Gelman. “People have left coins, tokens, and wonderful comments written in the log book. Everyone seems to be really enjoying the activity.”
In addition to educational health information, Shaler Smith noted other benefits. “There’s a great social benefit to geocaching as finding the cache allows participants to feel successful.”
“We’re finding that communities and families team together in the search,” said Dr. Gelman. The camaraderie extends to online communities for discussing and sharing stories. “We got a lot of ‘likes’ on our Facebook page.”
Public Health or Else
The Fulton County Public Health Department named their geocache program Public Health or Else. “That’s a tongue in cheek reference to the location of our cache,” said Dr. Gelman. The geocache coordinates bring participants to the sprawling, rural Ferndale Cemetery in Johnstown. Dr. Gelman’s team selected Ferndale for its beauty and ease of access. “The Ferndale folks were pleased to participate as they are encouraging visitors,” said Dr. Gelman. “Ferndale is a great setting for hiking, walking and enjoying the landscape.”