ATLANTA --- When David and Tina Pilgrim of McDuffie County first started geocaching, they had no idea they'd become two of the most successful "treasure hunters" in Georgia. They recently became the first finishers of the Georgia State Parks Geo-Challenge -- a quest to find 45 hidden boxes in 42 state parks. The new program kicked off this May, and the Pilgrims discovered them all in less than a month.
Geocaching is a world-wide game where adventure seekers use a GPS unit to find hidden treasures, then share their experiences online. Caches usually contain trinkets that geocachers can trade. With the new Georgia State Parks Geo-Challenge, players download a PassPort from www.GeorgiaStateParks.org, find hidden stamps in each cache to spell out the PassPort's message, and collect custom geocoins.
What started as an occasional hobby developed into a whole new lifestyle for the couple.
"Geocaching filled a void in our lives that we didn't even know was there," said Tina. "Until you get out there and explore Georgia, you don't see what you've been missing. I never dreamed that our state parks were so beautiful."
The Pilgrims are now avid fans of Georgia's state parks and have planned to revisit many.
Some of their most memorable caches were the "bonus" ones -- those that are much more challenging to find. F.D. Roosevelt State Park's bonus cache was hidden at the end of an 8-mile hike that left them exhausted but thrilled. Another favorite was best reached at low tide on Skidaway Island State Park near Savannah.
The GPS-toting couple owns David's Electrical in Dearing, which allows them to schedule treasure hunts around their jobs. David is close to completing a personal quest to find one cache per day for a year, and both have completed a challenge that involved geocaching in every county in Georgia.
"We've done a lot, but [the Georgia State Parks Geo-Challenge] is the best challenge that's ever come out," said Tina. "We had a blast. It was the most fun I've ever had."
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources worked closely with the Georgia Geocachers Association (GGA) to create the new statewide program. Geocaching is thought to be one of the most popular games in the world, with more than 1 million caches registered on www.Geocaching.com. To learn more about the Georgia State Parks Geo-Challenge, visit www. georgiastateparks.org/Geocaching.