By Rene Lance
“The Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways project is one of the most comprehensive self-guided driving trail systems in the entire country,” said Cindy Dupree, Public Relations Director for the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development. “This is the perfect way for Tennessee citizens and the millions of travelers who visit our state annually to get off the beaten path and discover some of Tennessee’s inspiring small towns, rural communities and truly authentic Southern experiences.”
There are sixteen different Tennessee Trails & Byways. One of them, The Jack Trail, now comes alive with the first self-guided geocache tour in Tennessee. This is a high-tech option available for exploring the Jack Trail.
The Jack GeoTour is expected to go live in August 2014. The tour will be connected to the international geocaching.com website. Geocaching is a very popular worldwide activity in which people use navigational technology to find “caches” of toys or trinkets that may be traded or have sentimental value. “It will turn Tennessee into a geotourism destination,” said Brad Simmons of the Middle Tennessee Geocachers Club.
Right now, there are more than five million geocachers. Ranging from ages eighteen to over fifty, with 54 percent male and 46 percent female, 69 percent earn more than $60,000, 18 percent earn more than $100,000, 50 percent are college graduates and 14 percent have a Masters or PhD.
If you are unfamiliar with geocaching, a simple explanation is it is a free, real-world, outdoor treasure hunt. Players try to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, using a smartphone or GPS and can then share their experiences online. This large community often travels long distances to hunt desirable geocaches, especially those along GeoTours. Families, individuals, friends and anyone else can play the game.
GeoTours are a series of geocaches engagingly tied together by a common theme, such as the history of a given area or region. The Jack Trail is the theme for the Jack GeoTour. There is no fixed itinerary, like a traditional trail, but rather a series of points of interest in a self-guided, goal-oriented plan.
The Jack GeoTour creates a special passport, which functions as a logbook for visitors to track their progress by hunting specially placed geocaches along the tour. This passport lets them collect “passwords” they find on the caches to qualify for special rewards upon completion of the GeoTour, such as a custom geocoin.
A geocoin is a special coin created by individuals or groups of geocachers as a kind of signature item or calling card. These are similar to “challenge coins,” except each geocoin is assigned a unique tracking ID and webpage which allows them to travel from from geocache to geocache, picking up stories along the way. Many geocachers collect geocoins, and the opportunity to receive a special geocoin can be a strong motivator.
The Jack GeoTour is an extension of the already 348-mile Jack Trail. A limited number of special caches along the trail will encourage tourists to visit their locations, but also provide a “virtual tour guide” of the trail by providing history and local information on the individual webpages for each location. Not only will the Jack GeoTour be an enticing reason for travelers to visit these destinations, but it also proves a measurable impact. By tracking the number of passports and geocoins deployed, and the number of geocaching “logs” entered by visitors on geocaching.com, the ongoing effect of the Jack GeoTour can be monitored.
Geocachers will record their finds online at geocaching.com and in their Jack GeoTour passport. This passport is used to track their progress toward rewards and will be available for download at the Jack GeoTour webpage, which will be linked at geocaching.com. Hotels and restaurants are business partners on the Jack GeoTour. If you eat at one of the restaurants or stay at one of the hotels, you will receive extra points on your passport, getting you closer to the special geocoin.
We at South Central Tennessee Tourism are very excited about this opportunity to work with geocaching.com and develop the Jack GeoTour. We hope you will sign up for free at geocaching.com, find the Jack GeoTour and print out your passport to start hunting. Once you have enough points, you will receive your free geocoin.
In addition to the new Jack GeoTour, we already have other high-tech options for exploring the Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways. You can download the free apps on your smartphone for all of the Tennessee Trails and Byways, like Jack Trail, Old Tennessee Trail, Nashville Trace Trail and Tennessee River Trail, in either the iTunes or Google stores. We look forward to you visiting South Central Tennessee soon.
Rene Lance is Executive Director of South Central Tennessee Tourism Association.