A half-dozen geocache enthusiasts took time from their space-age hobby Saturday to help tend to part of McDuffie County's past.
"This is giving back to the community," said Rose Holmes of Beech Island, S.C., as she and five other CSRA Geocachers cut brush and removed trash from the graveyard known locally as Hickory Hill Cemetery.
Cemetery owner Shawn Stapleton of Thomson Funeral Service said no one knows how many people are buried in the 8-acre parcel wedged between Mesena Road and the railroad tracks. "There was not good records kept with that cemetery from the former owner, but there are hundreds of graves out there," Stapleton said. He said no burials have been held there in several years. He said his firm recently secured a true deed to the property and plans to restore it. "We plan to go in and clean it up and get it into operation," he said.
He said the formal name of the property has been changed. "It's been Hickory Tree Cemetery for probably 50 years," he said.
Stapleton said he gave permission for volunteers to clean the cemetery and he appreciates their work.
Elizabeth Vance, the executive director of the Thomson-McDuffie Tourism Council, secured permission from Stapleton.
The geocachers, who use global positioning satellite signals to locate hidden objects, left their hobby at the cemetery's edge. Their mission was a CITO - Cache In, Trash Out.
The newest graves near the roadsides showed evidence of continuing care. The most recent headstone in the area served Saturday was from 2005.
Nearby, the crew uncovered about 28 grave sites in two hours Saturday morning, said David Pilgrim, of Dearing. Several volunteers said they would be willing to return.
The hobbyists have visited Thomson for several years. They have helped to clean the grounds of the Rock House. They have cleaned a small park behind the Dearing post office.
Geocachers hide written logs in waterproof cases about the size of matchboxes. Other geocachers use satellite signals to locate the caches, and then update the logs and hide them somewhere else.
"It will be right in front of your face and you won't even see it," Holmes said.
While in Thomson for the weekend, geocachers enjoyed dinner at The Depot, breakfast at Ryan's, and played games. Recovered letters were used to play Scrabble.
Recovered cards were used to play poker.
On Saturday, hand-held GPS readers were showing treasures that other enthusiasts had hidden eight miles away, on Thurmond Lake.
"We will have to bypass those today," said Scott Rushton, of Thomson, whose "geonick" is Lowdollar.
Tim Rivera of Powder Springs, Ga., said the geocachers spend most of their time outdoors. "We're just doing what we can to give back and clean up nature," he said.
Stapleton said many of the graves do not have stones.
"A lot of people would plant trees at the head of a grave or maybe plant rose bushes because they could not put a marker there," Stapleton said.
"It is not a perpetual care cemetery," he said. "When they purchased graves they would take care of it themselves."
Tina Pilgrim, of Dearing, said her group's weekend adventure was a success. She and husband, David, share the geonick "Pilgrims Progress."
"In the end result we had about 50 people," she said. She said the weekend usually attracts about 100 geocachers, but this year had to compete with a major event at Rock Hill, S.C.
"We've had really positive feedback about all the logs on the pages," she said.
"I could not be any happier," she said of the cemetery project. "For the amount of people we had out there and the work we got done, I was impressed."