MOUNT VERNON -- Ian Lengel, president of the Ohio Geocaching Association, stood on a truck bed and addressed the geocachers filing into the field outside the Agricultural Museum at the Knox County Fairgrounds Friday morning.
“Who here is from southwest Ohio?” he asked the crowd, ticking through the geographic regions of the state.
While those questions received minimal response, when Lengel asked who came from out of state, the crowd roared.
People from across the state and as far away as Arizona traveled to Knox County this weekend to participate in the first Ohio GeoClash Festival. Lengel chose to host the festival in Knox County because of its central location in relation to Ohio as a whole.
Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt that uses a Global Positioning System.
Kathy Vandersyde traveled from Pennsylvania with her children to attend the festival. Her goal for the weekend: find as many caches, or hidden containers, as possible.
While some participants, like Kathy, are into the competition of geocaching, others participate to meet people and explore new places, including festival attendee Matt Burriss from Steubenville.
Burriss has been geocaching for approximately 10 years, he said, and first became interested in geocaching through his job as a therapist.
“I was counseling a family and I asked them to find something that they all enjoyed to do together and they came back and described geocaching to me,” he said. “And I thought, well, this is really interesting. I think I might like to try this.
“So I started investigating, and I got hooked.”
Randy Ives from Grafton, has also been geocaching for 10 years. Recently, his 12-year-old daughter, who joined him for the festival, began geocaching as well.
Several families, including pets, attended the festival together.
Geocaching offers people a chance to learn the history of an area as well, which is what drew Carol and John Reynolds from Duncansville, Pennsylvania, to attend the festival.
Some geocaches have codes that geocachers can scan to learn information about the area in which the cache is found, including those on Knox County’s new geotrail, the State Scenic River GeoTrail, which launched concurrent with the festival on Friday.
Lengel worked with Katie Hux, administrative assistant for the Knox County Park District, to organize the festival and coordinate the trail launch, he said.
When the caches for the festival and trail went live, participants dispersed to their cars, took out their GPSs and began the hunt. The number of geocaching accounts — which can be one person or a group of family and friends participating as a unit — registered for the festival reached 430 on Friday, Lengel said, which was an increase from earlier in the week.
“I knew it was going to be big, especially because coming out of this pandemic we haven’t had any events like this in a year,” Lengel said. “I knew people were going to be really excited to just get out in the world.”
Alex and Jacob Reid, siblings from Columbus, who are at the festival, began geocaching during the COVID-19 pandemic because it was one of the few activities available without interacting with other people.
While Lengel said he recognizes a number of familiar names on the registration list, he noted that new geocachers, including Mount Vernon locals, are also taking part.
The festival will conclude Saturday evening, when participants have the opportunity to win prizes, including Amazon gift cards and geocaching-themed items, including memberships to geocaching.com and geocaching merchandise.
The event is funded by organization memberships and event merchandise sales, Lengel said.