Standing in the Ford Family Room of the Roseburg Public Library on Saturday morning, Chance Hammerberg introduced himself as “Y2K.”
The name is Hammerberg’s online “geocaching” username. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity in which people plug-in coordinates to a GPS device or a phone app to find hidden “geocaches” — typically waterproof containers with a log book and pencil so people can note when they found it.
“It’s like treasure hunting,” Hammerberg said. “It takes you to all kinds of cool places and neat things. Things like a big old statue of Paul Bunyan. And you’re like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know there was a statue of Paul Bunyan here.’”
Hammerberg drove from Beaverton for the ninth annual geocaching event put on by the Roseburg Parks & Recreation Department.
The activity has been gaining popularity nationwide — and so has the local event, according to department staff. Geocachers across the West Coast as far as British Columbia, Canada, and Paradise, California, attended the event this weekend. The Parks Department gave out 140 event pamphlets. Some groups took one pamphlet for the whole group. That’s an increase from previous years, when attendance was around 120, according to Val Ligon,program coordinator at the Parks Department.
The activity allows people to explore new places, but it also gives them a way to meet new people.
“The lady in the black jacket, her name is Cindy, or ‘Razzledazzle,’” Hammerberg said. “I met her through geocaching. That’s ‘Cowboy Steve,’ ‘Nategirl,’ ‘Mr. Walkie.’ A lot of these people I never knew until I started geocaching.”
Hammerberg’s geocaching name, “Y2K,” comes from his two dogs — geocaching companions — Kona and King.
He started geocaching in 2013 when he moved to Wenatchee, Washington. He didn’t know anybody, but he had heard of a new way to meet people and explore the natural area. “People say it’s like hiking with a purpose,” Hammerberg said.
Geocachers place geocache containers for other geocachers to find. The containers often have tradable tokens or other small objects that people take as a trophy. They log all the geocaches they find into their online account.
“I have about 8,600, I think,” Hammerberg said. He has also been to about 100 geocaching events like the one in Roseburg. “And I’ve been to about 10 mega events, or events that have 500 or more people that attend.” He said he has traveled as far as Delaware to go to an event.
This year’s event, Discover Roseburg 9 Land of Umpqua, had five traditional geocaches and 15 virtual caches that took people to special places in the Roseburg area. Places included Colliding Rivers Park in Glide, where the North Umpqua River and Little River converge.
At the virtual caches, people have to solve a riddle or answer a question they would only be able to figure out if they were there, Ligon said.
“I don’t want them to be obvious, but I also don’t want them to be standing there for an hour going, ‘What is she thinking?’” she said.
For the traditional caches, people have to describe the shape or the color of the cache to prove they found it. Ligon placed objects that almost totally blend in with their location, she said.
Although Ligon is not a geocacher herself, she said she loves organizing the event and getting people excited to explore the area. She’s already thinking of where she’ll hide next year’s geocaches, she said.
People often get highly creative when they place a geocache, according to Hammerberg. One geocache he is proud of finding had a handmade, wooden maze with a ball bearing in it. Geocachers had to solve the maze in order to put their name in the log.
There’s no time limit for the Roseburg geocache series. Ligon said people are still completing last year’s series.
Last year, the theme was the 100th anniversary of the construction of the Umpqua Valley Art’s Association building. This year’s theme is the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which the U.S. Congress passed in 1968 to protect important rivers across the country.
“In 1988, Congress designated 33.8 miles of the North Umpqua River as a recreational river in the Wild and Scenic River System,” reads the back of the Roseburg event’s pamphlet.
People who complete the Roseburg series will get a geocache coin from the Parks Department. This year’s coin features different North Umpqua River recreational activities such as rafting and fishing. There was also a raffle at the end of the day where people can win prizes, such as a compass and a multitool.
Ligon is proud to organize an event that brings people to Roseburg from hundreds of miles away, she said. Many Douglas County residents also attend.
Valerie Osborne and her son, Branden, from Winston, came to the event for the first time this year. It was the first time either of them had gone geocaching.
“So you do this every year?” Osborne asked Ligon before going out to search for geocaches.
“I’ve never even heard of it,” Osborne said. “He (Branden) did amazing on his report card, he overachieved his benchmarks, so I said, ‘We’re going to do something fun this weekend.’”
The Osbornes also took last year’s geocache series coordinates before leaving the library.