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CapeDoc

Threat to Geocaching in Table Mountain National Parks

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I am concerned about the future of geogaching in the TMPN reserves on the peninsula.

 

Recently a cache was placed in Cape Town on an island. I had previously seen the island as a potential location, asked the relevant authorities permission, and was denied. This prompted me to place another cache with the theme of "getting permission". As such I contacted the Table Mountain Parks board and asked if I could place a cache in a restricted area, with the provisor that if a cacher wanted to find it, they had to get permission. I thought it a good way of introducing cachers to the "Powers that be" and facilitating permission for future caches.

The response has been one of escalation: "speak to my boss". As I have gone about this, I have spoken to officials higher up the chain in the National Parks structure who have been aware of geocaching already and have "been very concerned" about geocaching. To make this clear, they were "very concerned" PRIOR to dealing with me. I feel that geocaching is at risk of alienating the relevant authorities in the Cape. I have been asked by them to make proposals on how to improve our relationship with them.

Now I am just a lowly individual, and have no "right" to represent geocaching in any way. I do not want to do anything to anger others in the community. I think that we MUST interface with the parks to protect the future of caching, but I feel we, the geocaching community collectively need to agree on the approach.

 

I have drawn up a letter of reply and request your comments, opinions and suggestions before proceeding any further. Further, if anyone feels they are better suited to negotiations and want to take my place, feel free to come forward (I don't particularly want to do it, but the need is pressing). I would appreciate any support anyone can give.

 

I personally hope that ALL geocachers are ecologically sensitive, cherishing the spots that we have been shown by geocaching. If this process results in caches being removed form sensitive areas (as advised by TMNP) I would hope that we all would rsepect the need to preserve our heritage over our selfish desires. For example,(as told to me by the more senior TMNP managers) there are some species of plant on TM where only 3 or 4 individual plants are left. Clearly there ARE places where we should not be placing caches.

 

Below is the letter. Please make comments and suggestions.

 

Hi

I, dr de la Harpe, am part of a community that participate in a sport or hobby called Geocaching.

 

We concerned that as the sport grows and becomes more popular, that the geocaching community has a good, ecologically sound relationship with all National Parks, including Table Mountain National Parks.

 

Geocaching is a “sport” or hobby in which any registered “player” or (cacher) can place a hidden container (a geocache), containing a logbook, somewhere for other cachers to find using a GPS. The intent of the sport is to hide geocaches in interesting areas. These may highlight areas of natural beauty, historical, geological, botanical, social, archeological (etc!) interests. It is a regulated sport, with a controlling web site, rules and a review process. Every cache placed is reviewed by a competent, appointed reviewer who ensures the cache adheres to the rules of geocaching. Geocachers tend to be fairly wealthy, intelligent, geeky people who are environmentally sensitive.

 

The Table mountain National Parks areas are beautiful and mostly free to access and therefore have been used by geocachers wanting to share the beauty with others. Geocaches have been placed within the Parks for 11 years already (since 2001).

 

To give an idea of the environmental impact, I thought you might want to get an idea of some statistics:

• At present there are about 410 geocaches in the Peninsula Reserve areas between Signal Hill and Cape Point

• The oldest cache in the country is in Silvermine and has been found 140 times in 11 years (geocachers make a pilgrimage to visit it, wanting to visit the site where it all began)

• The greatest number of finds on any cache in the area is on a cache near the cableway, which has been found 635 times in a 7-year period. (It is the most found cache in South Africa)

• Giving an average is very hard, but caches on top of Table Mountain away from more touristy areas are probably not found more than 10 to 20 times per year.

 

Most caches are hidden very near main paths. Some of them are placed on the more adventurous routes up the mountain and are near unofficial paths. These caches receive less finds than caches on the standard routes.

 

Some proposals to ensure a good relationship or even mutually beneficial relationship between Geocachers and TMNPs :

 

1. TMNPs supply us with a map of ecologically sensitive or threatened areas. This could be passed on to the geocaching reviewers who could ensure that any caches in the areas be removed and that no new caches are placed in those areas

2. TMNPs could register with the Geocaching web site and browse the geocaching maps of the caches in the Peninsula area and highlight caches of concern. Those caches could be visited by TMNPs, perhaps in combination with a geocacher, and if the cache is thought to be unsound, the cache could be removed.

3. In other areas of the country, National Parks have appointed individuals to interface with geocachers , to overview and review the placement of new geocaches. TMNPs could copy this practice

4. If geocachers can help the TMNPs in any way a TMNP representative could again interface with the geocaching to facilitate beneficial events. Geocaching does cater for events (or “get togethers”). Some of these are called CITO (“Cache in Trash out”). These are get togethers where geocachers remove rubbish from the environment. Geocachers could be requested to : remove trash in high tourist areas, hack alien vegetation, remove graffiti or maintain paths by TMNP. In this way the Geocaching community could give back to the TMNPs as a gesture of good faith for allowing us to continue using the TMNP reserves for geocaching.

 

We hope to convey that Geocachers are environmentally sensitive and are wanting to work with the TMNPs (and all National Parks) in preserving the reserves, whilst enjoying them.

 

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Doc, I think it commendable in what you are doing. Good luck and I supportt you wholeheartedly.

 

I seem to recall that the KNP issues address by Fish Eagle also touched on the TMNP as well or am I incorrect there? Maybe Andy could shed some additional light on that and thrown in his 2c worth prior to the letter being posted. That is my 2c worth.

 

I will be watching this with interest as I think this will not be the last of these types of issues.

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I commend you on taking this to them, rather than at some point in the future, TMNP suddenly announce the banning of all geocaching in the park because of one or two little issues which get blown out of proportion within TMNP, as has been seen overseas. The only thing I would possibly change, is to remove "wealthy"... this is not true of all geocachers and may infer some sort of elitism to them. I think the focus needs to be a lot on the fact that cachers that are likely to be in the parks, are mostly people who were hikers before they started geocaching and by their very nature, most are sensitive to the ecology. It might also help to indicate that a substantial amount of caches are done by tourists, who will often use geocaching to seek out some of the best, non-touristy, walks and hikes that the Cape has to offer.

 

Just my 2c worth :)

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Geocachers tend to be fairly wealthy, intelligent, geeky people who are environmentally sensitive.

[/i]

Sorry... I'm confused.... Does this mean the non-wealthy are not environmentally sensitive... or that only the fairly wealthy are worthy cachers????

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Geocachers tend to be fairly wealthy, intelligent, geeky people who are environmentally sensitive.

[/i]

Sorry... I'm confused.... Does this mean the non-wealthy are not environmentally sensitive... or that only the fairly wealthy are worthy cachers????

 

I rest my case :) ....

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Thanks for taking this on Capedoc, you're a brave man indeed. TMNP can be quite irrational at times and will flex their bureaucratic muscles when given the opportunity. "Wealthy" seems to have hit a few nerves :-) so perhaps change that to educated. I think you have covered all the important aspects but I would stress the CITO more i.e. we are actually beneficial to TMNP as we pick up some of the litter left behind by the cretins.

Let me know if I can help you with this in any way.

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Doc, I think it commendable in what you are doing. Good luck and I supportt you wholeheartedly.

 

I seem to recall that the KNP issues address by Fish Eagle also touched on the TMNP as well or am I incorrect there? Maybe Andy could shed some additional light on that and thrown in his 2c worth prior to the letter being posted. That is my 2c worth.

 

I will be watching this with interest as I think this will not be the last of these types of issues.

I did approach FE, as well as Rotsip, BruceTP and Globalrat. Rotsip has given his support.FE felt he couldn't give official support as he is no longer a reviewer.

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Great work - anything that promotes geocaching in a good light with the community rather than tarring us as a s8ub-culture looking to push the boundaries can only be a good thing.

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Way to go Colin!.

 

Perhaps also add in the value of the educational aspect of geocaching. Such as Earth Caches, and that it gets people "out there" to experience nature.

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i suggest including contact information for those Parks officials of other areas, with whom good relationships have already been established. i imagine peer review is at least as much an issue within the Sanparks membership.

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Maybe you can share in the mean time what they were "very concerned" about to ensure we consider it in all our actions (if they actually defined it...)

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i suggest including contact information for those Parks officials of other areas, with whom good relationships have already been established. i imagine peer review is at least as much an issue within the Sanparks membership.

Good idea. I will attempt to get them and pass them on.

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Maybe you can share in the mean time what they were "very concerned" about to ensure we consider it in all our actions (if they actually defined it...)

Well, by their rules, no one is allowed to leave the standard paths. I also think there was a perception that geocaches were being placed in their 1000s around the park, all leaving a trail of destruction in their path. When I told the manager that there we 410 caches in his area, his reply was "Oh! That is manageable" making me feel quite relieved! The parks get around 12 000 000 visits a year (I think), so we are relatively small in their list of concerns. I think the discussion I had with him has tempered some of his concerns. They ARE worried about protecting very endangered species, but we cant do much about that till this process has played out.

 

I will also suggest they monitor this forum, perhaps then they can give us constructive direction here.

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Could also be worth mentioning that geocachers usually cache in very small groups. I know TMNP has an issue with large groups (20+), their concern being that people will walk side by side and not stick to the paths and trample the vegetation.

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One could also point them to the international community and similar practices in the US National Parks and Forest Services, with the land owners being active in monitoring the caches - and working with a group of local cachers and reviewers to assist in preventing cache placement where it is not desirable or is in contravention with guidelines.

 

The geocaching acount with watchlists is great. They could also provide a contact person for land owner permissions - or a blanket permission for caches that meet the guidelines.

 

The review process is important to highlight to them.

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I have sent TMNP the edited letter. I also included all the suggestions offered on this forum and on Fbook.

 

The email has been received and TMNP is considering it.

 

"Thank you kindly for your willingness to work with us" was the reply so far. :)

 

I will give further updates as further responses are received.

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Thanks CapeDoc for taking this issue in hand and leading the way forward. I look forward to see what developments occur, I am sure this can be worked out into a win win situation.

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UPDATE:

I have sent the email to TMNP, and have had no further reply other than their acknowledgment of receipt. I have called and had a brief chat to a manager (Gavin Bell) who I was informed by Paddy Gordon (The area manager) would be the man to interface with. He said that it was not for him to make any decisions, and I should speak to Paddy Gordon! So, I am gently being passed back and forth. I am taking it slow, not wanting to waken sleeping dragons. I called again today, but as is often the case, no one was in the office. They will call me back.

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Update:

After many attempts to speak to one of the top brass (without being a nuisance) I have finally chatted to one of the TMNP officials.

They are aware of geocaching. They need to have an in house discussion on policy before guidelines for geocaching are given. They cannot interface with us in any way till then. They will get back to us.

Please be responsible when placing caches in TMNP, particularly if you feel the area is sensitive. Perhaps wait until we have an understanding with TMNP before publishing the cache. I have quite a few wonderful locations earmarked, but am withholding publishing caches until we hear more.

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Thanks CapeDoc for your efforts and updates. I am sure the reviewers are also on board with this as far as any new cache placements go too.

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Update:

At last things seem to be moving! I had a brief discussion with one of the top brass and they have at last decided to create a policy for placing geocaches in the park. They have given me the name of an official who will be responsible for liaising with geocachers. I am in the process of making contact with said person. It looks like all current caches may need to be reviewed. If some caches need to be archived, I feel it is best to do what they want, otherwise we probably will lose any right to place caches in the TMNP area.

Will update further after making contact.

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Update:

At last things seem to be moving! I had a brief discussion with one of the top brass and they have at last decided to create a policy for placing geocaches in the park. They have given me the name of an official who will be responsible for liaising with geocachers. I am in the process of making contact with said person. It looks like all current caches may need to be reviewed. If some caches need to be archived, I feel it is best to do what they want, otherwise we probably will lose any right to place caches in the TMNP area.

Will update further after making contact.

Yes, it's wonderful that things are happening at last. :D

 

The highest levels of SANPARKS are at last embracing geocaching as something that fits in with their future strategies. What a refreshing change from the exceptionally narrow-minded views that I had to deal with five years ago.

 

And, there's likely to be more good news in the future too, but we must be patient. The wheels are turning, albeit not very quickly yet... :lol:

 

Big thanks CapeDoc, surreptitious007 and others for your efforts - the previously insurmountable obstacles are now not so formidable anymore!!

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Maybe we can track down cachers in the UK and US who have worked with their respective agencies to see if we can proactively provide SANParks with a policy which marries the current Groundspeak guidelines with a SANParks policy? We should not need to reinvent the wheel.

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Maybe we can track down cachers in the UK and US who have worked with their respective agencies to see if we can proactively provide SANParks with a policy which marries the current Groundspeak guidelines with a SANParks policy? We should not need to reinvent the wheel.

I think that boat has sailed. The TMNP have had their discussion and the policy is made. I also think they will be less tough particularly than the US, where many Parks have banned caching altogether. It was suggested to TMNP that we could get other South African Park representatives (that already have working relationships with geocachers) could give input. They seem to want to make their own policies. Considering the uniqueness of the fynbos system, different spread of endangered fauna and flora, I think they justified to have a unique approach.

Edited by CapeDoc

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Maybe we can track down cachers in the UK and US who have worked with their respective agencies to see if we can proactively provide SANParks with a policy which marries the current Groundspeak guidelines with a SANParks policy? We should not need to reinvent the wheel.

I think that boat has sailed. The TMNP have had their discussion and the policy is made. I also think they will be less tough particularly than the US, where many Parks have banned caching altogether. It was suggested to TMNP that we could get other South African Park representatives (that already have working relationships with geocachers) could give input. They seem to want to make their own policies. Considering the uniqueness of the fynbos system, different spread of endangered fauna and flora, I think they justified to have a unique approach.

I agree that they need a unique approach. Over the years I've read most of the significant American and British parks agreements, and there's no "one size fits all" solution.

 

You say that "the policy is made" - that's not my information. The decision has been taken in principle at the highest level to embrace geocaching across the breadth of Sanparks, including Kruger, but I understand that there's still a lot of work to be done on the practicalities, which might devolve down to individual parks...?? Dunno.

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Maybe we can track down cachers in the UK and US who have worked with their respective agencies to see if we can proactively provide SANParks with a policy which marries the current Groundspeak guidelines with a SANParks policy? We should not need to reinvent the wheel.

I think that boat has sailed. The TMNP have had their discussion and the policy is made. I also think they will be less tough particularly than the US, where many Parks have banned caching altogether. It was suggested to TMNP that we could get other South African Park representatives (that already have working relationships with geocachers) could give input. They seem to want to make their own policies. Considering the uniqueness of the fynbos system, different spread of endangered fauna and flora, I think they justified to have a unique approach.

I agree that they need a unique approach. Over the years I've read most of the significant American and British parks agreements, and there's no "one size fits all" solution.

 

You say that "the policy is made" - that's not my information. The decision has been taken in principle at the highest level to embrace geocaching across the breadth of Sanparks, including Kruger, but I understand that there's still a lot of work to be done on the practicalities, which might devolve down to individual parks...?? Dunno.

"The policy is made" - refers to TMNP only. I am not aware of a national policy. Perhaps they have developed their own policies whilst awaiting national guidance.

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Maybe we can track down cachers in the UK and US who have worked with their respective agencies to see if we can proactively provide SANParks with a policy which marries the current Groundspeak guidelines with a SANParks policy? We should not need to reinvent the wheel.

I think that boat has sailed. The TMNP have had their discussion and the policy is made. I also think they will be less tough particularly than the US, where many Parks have banned caching altogether. It was suggested to TMNP that we could get other South African Park representatives (that already have working relationships with geocachers) could give input. They seem to want to make their own policies. Considering the uniqueness of the fynbos system, different spread of endangered fauna and flora, I think they justified to have a unique approach.

I agree that they need a unique approach. Over the years I've read most of the significant American and British parks agreements, and there's no "one size fits all" solution.

 

You say that "the policy is made" - that's not my information. The decision has been taken in principle at the highest level to embrace geocaching across the breadth of Sanparks, including Kruger, but I understand that there's still a lot of work to be done on the practicalities, which might devolve down to individual parks...?? Dunno.

"The policy is made" - refers to TMNP only. I am not aware of a national policy. Perhaps they have developed their own policies whilst awaiting national guidance.

Sounds good. I reckon that TMNP is probably the best park to pioneer something like this. Either way, I'm thrilled to see what evolves into the future, and I'll be a very happy (read drunk) cacher the day that I can hide a physical container in the Kruger Park again!! :D

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TMNP has finally sent me an official response. I enclose the pertinent part below:

Geocaching, slope soaring and orienteering in the TMNP

 

Geocaching

The following was decided:

Representatives of the sport must liaise with the responsible section mangers in the Park. The respective managers will assess whether or not caches will be permitted in that area.

No geocaching will be permitted off paths, roads or management tracks.

No geocaching is permitted in heritage sites.

No geocaching is permitted in sensitive sites, including dunes, wetlands, forests, caves and riverine areas.

No trampling of vegetation is permitted.

No geocaching is permitted in high tourist destinations for example Table Mountain, Signal Hill, Boulders and Cape Point.

 

Slope soaring

The same applies.

No model aircraft with combustible engines will be permitted.

 

Orienteering

Not permitted in the TMNP

 

It was decided that Tokai would meet with the geocachers (Colin de la Harpe) first to assess the suitability of caches in Tokai.

Shoe! That doesn't look good to me!

I will liaise with Tokai as requested and see how things pan out!

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Seems like they don't actually get it.

 

I would have thought not to poke the hornets nest. The hornets nest has been poked. Consequences to follow.

 

I guess I am going to have to go and find some caches soon.

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I would have thought not to poke the hornets nest. The hornets nest has been poked. Consequences to

I'm not sure that is entirely fair. If you recall, when I first contacted them, they were aware of geocaching and very concerned about it.

The hornets were already buzzing then.

 

I am really gutted by their simplistic, "don't want to think about it" way of dealing with us. What I have to find out now is if their is any way to gently bend these overbearing rules.

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I would have thought not to poke the hornets nest. The hornets nest has been poked. Consequences to

I'm not sure that is entirely fair. If you recall, when I first contacted them, they were aware of geocaching and very concerned about it.

The hornets were already buzzing then.

 

I am really gutted by their simplistic, "don't want to think about it" way of dealing with us. What I have to find out now is if their is any way to gently bend these overbearing rules.

 

Fair enough.

 

But now they have issued this decree - which actually can't be enforced anyway. They are simply looking at the problem with blinkers on in my opinion. That's why I don;t believe they have any capacity to do anything about it. And if they do it will once again be the soft target principle. If they concentrated their resources on making the mountains safer and getting rid of crime and criminals - but thats too difficult and costly - they can rather send some rangers out with GPS and Groundspeak printouts to remove the caches that are going to destroy the sensitive eco systems.

 

Yes I am being facetitous but I think you get the point. But now the engagement has started it will be interesting to see what unfolds. Where was Cape Nature while the greedy Toll Operators where building on Sanparks land in Chapmans Peak. What about the rhinos?

 

Trev

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Uh-oh.........

 

x2 ... if this broad sweeping generalisation stands, it pretty much wipes out every where of any interest and some of the best caches in the Cape Peninsula.

 

I can fully appreciate points 1 & 4 and completely agree. But what they giveth with one hand they take away with points 2,3 & 5. I mean seriously "high tourist destinations"... if the tourists are there why can't geocachers, since many geocachers are also tourists :mad:

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Oh Dear - this does not sound good - "No geocaching is permitted in high tourist destinations for example Table Mountain, Signal Hill, Boulders and Cape Point." Where else is there?

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"High tourist destinations .." & "Table Mountain .."

 

CapeDoc will have to lead the way and archive the Table Mountain Travel Bug Hotel ..... :-)

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