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The People Who Don't Know


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My only question about benchmarking is what do you say to people who have no clue what you are doing? When I am geocaching, I have a little "Muggle Card" that I can hand out, like to the police or whatever. I would never go on private property to locate these, but there are some BMs that are along side of the road and close to a person's property and they may (have) ask what you are doing and one has asked by what authority do I have reason to be there? And those that are on public buildings, the Police are wondering what you are doing.


I would like to do this a lot more, I just want to have an answer when I am asked.


Thanks for the help!

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I just show the datasheet and explain that I'm looking for old government survey marks, just to check if they are still there and in good condition. Either people are interested and helpful, or they are bored and leave you alone. Most property owners seem to fear a fleet of bulldozers and excavators coming soon to destroy their property. Once they find out that isn't the case, they get bored, or they point you toward the nearest shiny thing in the vicinity and say "yeah, that's it over there."

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The best defense is a good offense. Whenever I'm out benchmarking, I wear a reflective vest, hardhat, boots and jeans, and almost always am driving my Big Red Truck. In other words, look like you belong there. Everybody will see you but pay you no mind. The very few times I've been approached, I tell them I'm locating survey marks. Completely true, and its worked so far because I look the part. In fact, I've approached many local people to gather benchmark info (usually property owners, and I'm asking permission), and have never been denied the info and access, and seldom am asked any questions. Well, except for what seems to be the common questions "what are those survey marks doing in my yard?" and "who put them there?" I always answer truthfully, usually with an "I don't know -but I know they're there".


If you pull up there in a 15 year old Toyota sedan, and are wearing cutoff jeans, tennies, and a doo-rag, you're "I'm locating survey points" isn't going to be quite as believable.


If the above isn't feasible for you, then perhaps just a "I'm in this hide-and-seek sort of game, and one of the things I need to find is a benchmark. There's supposed to be one right here somewhere and as soon as I locate it, and take a quick photo, I'll get right out of here." Completely truthful, and can be expanded on and explained further if some authority figure presses the issue.

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We encounter this question at least once everytime we go out looking. I found a proactive approach works very well. If there are people out, we approach them and explain that we are looking for survey markers, that all we want to do is verify if its around, grab a picture or two, get updated coordinates with our GPSr and be on our way. It certainly doesn't hurt to ask if they are aware of a survey markers around. If we know its on public property and know one has a clue about any survey markers, we say something to the effect, you don't mind if we search around for a bit if we stay off private property? We always get a sure go ahead type response..and most of the time we get permission to roam on private property as well.


Other times when there is no one around and we are looking and we get stopped, we just explain that we looking for a survey marker to verify its existence and get updated coordinates for it. Most of the time people will wander away quite quickly or there'll be the folks who will tell you where it is and give you their life stories. Which is kind of neat.


I guess, just be honest about what you are doing, don't misrepresent yourself (you do not work for any gov't agency), and be respectful of people's property. We find that most people don't really care anyways.

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I wonder if benchmark hunters who "go paperless" bring 1 actual paper datesheet along just for this sort of thing.


I find that I almost feel more official by haing my little PDA with the data sheet information on it. I can stare at the screen and poke at it and people just walk on by.


Whenever I'm out benchmarking, I wear a reflective vest, hardhat, boots and jeans


After 6 months of benchmarking with my hardhat and reflective vest I almost feel naked without them on! I bring them on vacation with me now, just in case I get the itch to search some marks. I feel safer with them on too. In fact, on a Saturday morning, I once dug a hole and tried for 10 minutes to pull up an iron cover in front of a fire station with a Sheriff Officer in the parking lot, and he didn't even question what I was doing. (Unfortunately the cover never came off and I still have to get back with my better tools)


If you pull up there in a 15 year old Toyota sedan...


Sometimes I wish I had a truck for this exact reason. I own a 1995 Toyota Camry, with custom plates, and I think it is the only thing holding me back from looking Uber official. When pressed for what I am doing, tell the truth! Verifying the existance and condition of survey markers. If they press for more info or ask what agency, I tell them none, its my hobby and I do it for fun.

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I don't really do anything special. I usually have the datasheet in my hand, as well as my GPSr, so I guess I look somewhat official, but I could just as easily look like I was selling something. I arrive in jeans and a t-shirt most times, and I drive a 2000 Ford Focus, not the truck of choice of surveyors or engineers.


My weapon is an open and friendly manner. I always actively approach anyone in the area. I don't want to look furtive or sneaky. If it is the property owner I tell them exactly what I want to locate and when they ask I tell them it is "my hobby" as if it was my only hobby, which for the most part it is. I usually interject that I have looked for over 1,700 of these things and that I report them to the NGS (I say National Geodetic Survey) so that future surveyors can more easily locate them.


Sometimes they know what I am looking for and show me, sometimes they tell me where the mark is and I head off to look, and sometimes they just tell me I am welcome to look. A minor percentage has been interested enough to come along, some want to know if I succeeded, a couple have wanted the datasheet from me when I was done, and most are completely uninterested. If at any time during my explanation they look skeptical, I point out that these things have NOTHING to do with property lines. People seem to always be both interested in, and frightened of, their property lines, so I head off that fear or confusion by telling them quickly that I am not trying to change their property boundaries.


I will also knock on a door to get permission to search, if I think it is necessary. I recently stopped at 3 different places to get permission to find one mark--the first two ended up not being the property owners, the third was. A mark beside the road, in what I consider the right of way, is a tossup--if it is in front of a house I will usually ask, unless it is very noticable, in which case I will probably just grab a pic and go (if someone is outside I will just say "Mind if a take a pic of this"? and then proceed to do so). If the mark is on road right of way, but on a farm or in a wooded area, and there is nobody around, I will definitely hunt for it without bothering to get permission. Many times it is not at all obvious who to get the permission from for those marks.


I have no plans to start wearing a hardhat, or attempting to look any more "official". I am very happy with my success rate, which is 100 percent. I can't get any better than that. I am not sure how, after telling people that this is my hobby, I would answer the question "Soooo, what's with the hardhat"? At any rate, I hate hats of all kind so that just ain't happening. I admit a vest is a good idea, if just for safety, and I should add one of those to my wardrobe.


As Astro-D mentioned, sometimes the stories you hear are much better than the search or recovery for the mark. I spent 30 minutes with one couple and their 40 dogs, helped them put a horse in a trailer, and heard the history of the area, as well as how the mark was used in 1959 when someone last set up over it. My wife, although not a fan of hunting benchmarks, waits to hear my odd stories every weekend.

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I went hunting once to a park in Queens. It turns out a few of the marks were in an area used by the NYC Police department for some kind of training. There were all sorts of signs "Keep Out Authorized Personnel Only". So I figured "what the hey, let's see what happens".


One mark was on their doorstep. It was AH6731 (this is an NGS mark that is not on GC).


So I'm puttering around the door step trying to take a picture and the policeman on the second floor yells down "Hey, what are you doing". "I'm looking for a survey marker. It's supposed to be on your doorstep", "What agency are you with", "I'm a volunteer reporting into the National Geodetic Survey.". "Oh, national ... go ahead".


I returned twice more over the next week, found all 10 marks in the area and always said hello to the police. They were very nice.


Here's a summary of that week: Willets Point Tidal Benchmarks. One of my better weeks.


As Grace Hopper used to say, it's better to do it and apologize than to ask permission and get turned down.

Edited by Papa-Bear-NYC
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I have a little "Muggle Card" that I can hand out...

I carry photos to show a disk & a couple types of monuments.


As per other replies:

- I introduce myself w/ first & last name in casual/friendly manner

- Explain that I'm looking for a survey mark [show photo] that was placed in this area in the [1930's or whatever]

- Depending on what kind of vibes I'm getting, I may say "That was placed along the road right-of-way in the 1930's...." - haven't yet had the opportunity to look for a mark real close to a private house, thus requiring knocking & asking permission

- If more discussion needed, explain about updating computer database of current marks, as no such thing existed when the mark was placed - folks usually fall for that line just fine :(

- I don't call it a hobby, but a "sideline" (& don't wear a hardhat) :(:P

- Carry NGS datasheet rather than gc.com page, as it looks LOTS more official - usually folks are happy to read the datasheet & update the descriptors: "Don't ever remember a catalpa tree here, but the fence used to run over there..."

- Politely & excitedly snap a photo of whatever piece of pipe or conduit folks show me that I really should be interested in

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>A mark beside the road, in what I consider the right of way, is a tossup--if it is in front of a house I will usually ask, unless it is very noticable, in which case I will probably just grab a pic and go


> it's better to do it and apologize than to ask permission and get turned down.


That is my basic philosophy, too, but the biggest chewing-out I've gotten was when I found a mark in plain sight on the line between the yard of a newish house and the roadside right-of-way and was measuring the distance to a culvert. The guy came out with a red face and yelled me "off his property".


Of course, a close second was the time I was trying to find a cache in a public park without a gps to prove it could be done. A guy in a nearby house saw me pacing distances and came over to find out what was going on. He blocked my path and wouldn't let me leave without an explanation and was sure I was putting a road through "his" park.


Bottom line: measuring scares people, probably more than taking pictures.

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I still haven't developed the chutzpah to knock on doors, asking permission. Andy Bear is better at that. There were a few that I did not feel comfortable searching for. (Much less digging an eight inch hole in someone's front lawn!)

Then there was:

So, we parked alongside Zellers Road, in Washington Township, Morris. We even found pole BT-366! We're puttering around in the weeds and poison ivy. A sweet lady comes walking down the road. "Are you looking for the marker? I saw you pacing off distances." "Yes." "We put a rock next to it to protect if from the township mowers." Pokes around with a stick. "Here it is. What is it good for?" We explained benchmarks to her, and thanked her profusely for her help. We had been about to give up on the search!

Found, with the help of a very sweet lady who lives up the street.

Of course, the next one down the road was in someone's front lawn. They never saw us!

So, we pull off the the side of Zellers Road near the pole at the coordinates listed. And we start searching 50 feet east of the centerline of the road. There are some nasty roses and greenbriar here! Didn't find anything, so we moved north to the next pole. Here's where the greenbriar tore a hole through my blue jeans! Nothing. Moved south to the next pole. Hmm... There's a rock in the front yard of the house here! This house is only about ten years old. Harry has never been noted for being stealthy... He sneaks into the yard, having espied the turquoise color of a benchmark disk. A few quick pictures. No one notices.

Found, 368 feet off. No wonder no one has ever found this one!

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As Astro-D mentioned, sometimes the stories you hear are much better than the search or recovery for the mark. I spent 30 minutes with one couple and their 40 dogs, helped them put a horse in a trailer, and heard the history of the area, as well as how the mark was used in 1959 when someone last set up over it. My wife, although not a fan of hunting benchmarks, waits to hear my odd stories every weekend.


This past Tuesday I stopped at a farmhouse to get permission to enter their land across the street, a triangulation station that was about 1500 feet off the roadway. The farmer was having a new furnace installed, and two furnace guys were doing the work. Just as I pulled up, they were trying to remove one of those oval 275 gallon fuel oil tanks from the house, going through a small entry door. After speaking with the farmer and watching these two furnace guys trying to lift this tank through the door, it was suggested that maybe one guy on each corner might get that out the door and into the driveway. So, I got recruited to help lift this tank, but with four guys on it, it got moved pretty quick. Right after we put it down, the farmer pointed at a knoll way back there, and told me the mark I was looking for was up on the hill next to those two large trees. He also said that there is another "survey thing" just inside the woods with a plaque standing by it. Turned out to be RM3 with a metal witness post.


Sometimes you just have to be neighborly. :(

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So far most people have just ignored me (no hard hat or reflective vest). While I was out last week a guy asked me if I was surveying, at least he had a clue. Of course then he tried to sell me a pair of sunglasses. One Azimuth Mark that I was looking for was in the gutter on a local street. I had stopped, taken a picture and just gotten back in my car when the home owner came outside and sat down on his front steps. I got back out of my car and told him what I was doing and showed him the Azimuth Mark. He said he had never noticed it before; it was about 3 feet from his mailbox. I never did find the benchmark though.

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It is no different than geocaching. I am shocked at some of the things I have heard people make up as to reasons they are wandering around in different areas. The only thing you should really do is be truthful... it may take a bit longer to explain if you encounter someone who really cares (rare) in the first place. I think that much better than the negative attention you could draw to yourself by making up something rediculous. I recently encountered two police officers while looking for a benchmark in a park in New York. The first one seemed slightly amused and drove by a few times and the second one even turned on his spotlight and shined it over where I was looking. After not finding the mark I later moved on to the next town where another officer stopped by while I was looking for a cache in a parking lot. I had a few benchmarks on my route the I had been planning to skip since it was the middle of the night but I grabbed the opportunity while explaining everything to him to ask permission to go look for the next two benchmark discs since they were at City Hall and the Police station. He said it was ok so I did not have to skip them after all. In both cases I answered and explained everything thoroughly and even volunteered to just move on if they had a problem with it.


- Rev Mike

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