Those who regularly read my blog will know that I love EarthCaches! I can’t say that I always had an interest in geology. It was only when I started geocaching and ECs were leading me to some amazing locations, that I really developed an appreciation for the physical structure and origins of our little planet.
To date, I have developed eleven EarthCaches and have been asked a few times for advice on becoming an EC owner. The prospect of setting your own EC can be daunting, so I’ve put together the below guide on how to get started.
1. Be Inspired
Just like with other cache types, it’s not a requirement, but it’s a great idea to find a variety of EarthCaches before developing your own. The more ECs you complete, the more you will find yourself noticing geologically interesting things in what you see around you.
You can also do a little research online and try to identify something geologically interesting in and around your home location. It was only through research for my EC, Bray Head Rocks (GC5D1BP), that I discovered Bray Head became one of the world’s top attractions for geologists and fossil hunters in the 1870s, following the discovery of what was believed to be the oldest ever fossil. At the time, it was believed that the fossil represented the ‘Origin of Life’. That’s a pretty impressive claim to fame for my little home town, which I likely wouldn’t have known if it weren’t for my EC research.
Remember when finding ECs, that the guidelines for setting them has changed with time and certain ECs may not meet current requirements. In other words, the existence of a cache doesn’t set a precedent for publication of the same type of cache in the future. This is true of every cache type. Also note that Groundspeak have limited some specific EC types and these are outlined in the Help Centre here.
2. Identify your Subject
Generally speaking, there are two types of EarthCaches: urban and rural. Urban EarthCaches can relate to various topics, such as the structure of a rock used in a statue’s plinth, the effects of weathering on a specific rock used in building or the fossils that appear in urban structures, such as benches and steps, amongst numerous other things. Some people don’t particularly like urban EarthCaches, but I think if it highlights something interesting you may have otherwise missed, and makes you stop and appreciate the beauty to be found in towns and cities, what’s the problem?
Rural EarthCaches will usually include a walk, and a view! I have developed both these types, because I enjoy both urban and rural geocaching. If you don’t enjoy urban caching, then it makes sense to look for an EC subject in a rural location. These can be caves, beaches, cliffs, mineral springs… the list is extensive.
Since EarthCaches are virtual, the 161m/528ft proximity rule does not apply. Try not to use the exact same coordinates as a physical cache though, to ensure the icons don’t completely overlap, making one invisible on the map.
3. Make Sure Your Subject Can be Considered an EarthCache
As mentioned above, some specific EC types have been limited by Groundspeak. Not everything that occurs in nature can be considered worthy of an EarthCache. Topics such as biology, ecology and zoology are not allowable as EarthCaches. In addition, broad subjects such as mountains, meanders or rivers won’t be accepted unless the EC highlights something unique about them.
From the Groundspeak Help Centre, the following is the comprehensive list of allowable subjects:
- Geological materials – Rocks, minerals, fossils, sands, soils, etc.
- Geological processes – erosion, weathering, deposition, volcanic activity, glacial action, etc.
- Geological land form evolution – glacial valleys, reverse topography due to rock properties, waterfalls with geological explanations, use of geological materials – building stones, etc.
- Geological phenomena (not included above) – impact craters, geysers, mineral springs, etc.
- Tools used by geologists – index fossils, rocks, historical geology sites.
If you are unsure whether or not your subject fits in to one of the above categories, contact your local EarthCache reviewer for clarification. EC reviewers are not the same as other reviewers and their reviewer names always begin geoaware. You can identify them by looking at local ECs and checking the Published entry.
4. Read the Guidelines
EarthCaches have their own set of guidelines and these are found at EarthCache.org, not at geocaching.com. Earthcache.org is run by the Geological Society of America (GSA), who developed the EarthCache programme in conjunction with Groundspeak.
Just as you should read the guidelines before submitting your first cache, you should read the EC guidelines before submitting your first EC. Aside from the normal geocaching guidelines, such as requiring landowner’s permission and being written in the local language, EC guidelines also insist on the following:
- The EC must highlight a unique feature: while proximity issues don’t apply because ECs are essentially ‘virtual’, to allow two ECs close together, each of them must highlight a unique feature.
- The EC must be educational: The listing must assume absolutely no prior understanding of the subject in question. You need to impart knowledge to the cache finder and the lesson must be written so that a 14 year old can understand.
- You must have visited the EC site within the last two months: This is generally proven by finding other caches in the area within two months. You can set an EC when on vacation, although there’s no guarantee the reviewer will approve it, if they feel that logging requirements may need to change in future.
- You must include a site specific task in the logging requirements: Since ECs are virtual and there is no logbook to be signed, you need to try to ensure that there can be no armchair logging. Site-specific tasks can include estimating the size of something, describing colours and/or textures of rock, or obtaining information from a notice board. In addition, the task must be related to the geological subject of the EC. Requests for photos at the site cannot be a mandatory task, but can be included as optional.
5. Do Your Research
Don’t just copy and paste from Wikipedia. In fact, this Help Centre article specifically says not to, but does state that Wiki can be a good starting point. Ideally, you should be reading a lot of diverse websites and/or books, and condensing and summarising that information in your earth science lesson, in your own words. If your cache page is too lengthy, cachers may just skim over it without really taking it in.
Websites such as the British Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey offer a wealth of information. Make sure that you fully understand the geological features and/or processes you are writing about before sending your cache for review!
6. Get Permission
You may not need permission, depending on where you are setting the EC. While there is no physical container at GZ, the land owner/manager may need to be notified that the EC could potentially bring more visitors to the site. If the site is already a very popular tourist spot, it’s unlikely the EC will increase visitor numbers significantly.
If you are unsure whether or not permission will be needed, firstly have a read of the Regional Geocaching Policies Wiki page for your region to better understand what areas need express permission – there may be a blanket agreement in place. If you are still unsure, contact your local EC reviewer for clarification.
7. Provide an Earth Science Lesson
The whole point of an EarthCache is to provide an earth science lesson, so make sure you do. As I mentioned above, read from a variety of sources and make sure you understand the lesson you are trying to give, before sitting down to write your cache page.
ECs should assume no prior knowledge of the subject and should be written in such a way that is easy to comprehend. If you are feeling unsure, why not have a friend – muggle or geocacher – read your page before submitting it, to make sure they can understand the information, as well as the questions you have posed.
8. Make Sure the Logging Requirements Meet Guidelines
Your aim with the logging requirements should be to ensure the geocacher has understood the earth science lesson you are trying to teach them. You can pose one question which is answered in the text, thus ensuring that they have read your description.
Another question can relate to their interaction with the subject, for example, something as simple as describe the colours and textures of a rock, or measuring its dimensions. As a lead on from this type of question, another question could be, ‘based on the observations made in the above question, what/why/how do you think…?’
You need to ensure that the cacher has visited the site, so at least one question should be site-specific, and not something that can be found online, including on Google Earth/Streetview. If there is a sign in the area that has information about the geological feature you are highlighting, this part should be easy, provided a picture of the entire text is not readily available online.
If not, ask for something else that proves their visit, such as estimating measurements (as above), or even providing more exact measurements. Remember to put the ‘tool required’ attribute on the cache page if cachers are required to bring a measuring tape, and mention it near the top of the cache page too.
9. Make Your Cache Page Enticing
Some GPSr devices may have a character limit on the cache description, so if your listing is quite long, you might consider putting the logging requirements near the top of the listing, in case the finder’s device hasn’t downloaded the whole text.
You want to get your lesson across without rambling on for too long. Let’s be honest, a really lengthy cache page can be quite off-putting and many cachers tend to just skim through. Try to be concise.
Diagrams and charts can be used to make the page more interesting. At least one photograph of the EC site, without giving away any spoilers of course, is a great idea to make the cache page more enticing. Make sure diagrams, charts, photographs etc, are not copyright protected.
10. Give the Reviewer the Answers
This is self-explanatory: include the answers to your logging requirements in your reviewer note. The EC reviewer needs to ensure the questions are answerable, and also that you understand the subject. All reviewer notes are auto-deleted upon publication so the answers will not be made public.
There are fewer EC reviewers than other reviewers, so the process can take longer than the normal review procedure.
11. Do your EarthCache Maintenance
While you may not have a physical container to maintain, you should read the answers that people send to you within a reasonable time frame, to ensure that they have understood the content and, of course, to ensure they really have visited the site.
If cachers have answered questions incorrectly, you should work with them to help them get the right answers. Telling them their answers are wrong and deleting their logs outright is not helpful. Even if the wrong answers are given, it is usually easy to see who has really visited the site and who may be trying to armchair log. If you suspect armchair logging, be diplomatic and polite when interacting with the cacher.
I try to review all EC answers that have been sent to me on a weekly basis, so I’ll set aside some time to go through them all. I find it unmanageable to review them all as and when they come in to my mailbox. Finders are not required to wait for your confirmation to log, and it’s helpful to state this on the cache page, and to say that if there is an issue, you as the owner will contact them.
I hope the above guide has helped you if you are thinking about becoming an EarthCache owner. Do any EC owners have additional tips? Add them in the comments.
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