The 500 miles of the Susquehanna Greenway, one of the largest greenways of its kind in the state, link people to places along the Susquehanna River and its West Branch - spots such as parks, trails, access points, conserved areas and river communities - according its partnership.
The West Branch Water Trail recently was list named as one of the Best Adventure Destinations of 2012, by National Geographic.
A new trail is coming to the greenway - the West Branch Susquehanna River GeoTrail. It offers a way to travel in diverse manners by land and water, with the popular activity of geocaching at its center.
Geocaching is increasing in popularity every day and the partnership wanted to find a way to add it to the trail, said Erin Pierce, program coordinator of the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership.
"We think this popular activity will be a great way to explore and learn about the West Branch in a fun and healthy way and is also an opportunity to attract new visitors and their tourism dollars to the area and river towns," she said.
The GeoTrail is "a unique journey through history across the varied landscapes of the West Branch for those looking for a new kind of adventure," Pierce said.
The river will be used as a guide, a feature that is a bit different from most other geocaching experiences.
"The GeoTrail will build on this designation and allow paddlers and non-paddlers alike the opportunity to interact with and learn about the West Branch. The river is a great destination for paddling, but through the GeoTrail people will also discover the Susquehanna River is also a great place for walking, hiking, camping, photography, wildlife watching and more," Pierce said.
Geocaching basically is treasure hunting using a GPS unit to find specific coordinates. At the coordinates, a geocache usually is hidden. It may be a container containing small trinkets, toys, papers and a logbook so visitors can add their names and the date they found the cache. Some sites only contain a logbook.
"Inside, you'll find the 'treasure,' which typically consists of a logbook and possibly a small item you can take as long as you replace it with an item of similar value," Pierce said. "Caches must be labeled so there isn't any confusion as to what it is once it is found."
On the GeoTrail more than 20 sites will be part of the trail. All of them are in Susquehanna Greenway, which stretches through Clearfield, Centre, Clinton, Lycoming, Union and Northumberland counties.
The GeoTrail can be traversed by bike, canoe, kayak or on foot, or a combination.
Along the trail's 228 river miles, the caches will commemorate important events, people and natural resources and encourage heritage tourism and promote healthy recreation, Pierce said.
"The trail will be very long, adding the challenge that geocachers will not be able to complete it on one day. Instead, its length and variety of cache locations give participants the opportunity to take their time and explore the GeoTrail as their schedule or interests permit," she said.
Many caches will be hidden in public access areas such as community parks, river access areas, walking and bike trails and historic sections of river communities.
"Some caches will be easier to find than others, but all will provide interesting, river-related stories," Pierce said.
Some will include the river's role in the lumber and coal industries as a transportation corridor, important conservation history, historical connections between river towns and downstream markets, and modern river ecology.
"Stories will also include historical human impacts on water quality, and participants will have the opportunity to learn about modern acid mine drainage mitigation along the river's tributaries that are helping to improve water quality along the river," she said.
As part of the conservation effort in caring for the West Branch of the Susquehanna, the river stewardship will encourage small trash bags in each of the caches, promoting a "Cache In, Trash Out" attitude.
Geocachers then will be able to submit their logbooks, after visiting a majority of the caches, to the Susquehanna Greenway Partnership and will receive a commemorative GeoCoin.
The coins often are minted and used in geocaching, and this one in particular will be made from sustainably harvested Pennsylvania hardwoods.
"We are very excited about the GeoCoin since it will be made right here in Pennsylvania, in the Lumber Heritage Area, from local products and is a unique way to support small business in the watershed," Pierce said.
The GeoTrail is being developed thanks to a mini-grant from the Lumber Heritage Region.
Technical assistance was provided by project partners such as conservation districts, state foresters, local historical societies and local governments.
"The support of local businesses that are excited to see this new kind of tourism bring people to the West Branch is so important and critical in making this project a reality," Pierce said.
The trail is expected to be complete and ready by the end of fall. When it is, the Susquehanna Greenway website - www.susquehannagreenway.org - will list cache coordinates, offer a downloadable passport logbook and show information and images that help tell the story of each cache location.
"The GeoTrail will be a new way for people to explore the West Branch, a National Recreation Trail and a new National Historic Connecting Trail due to the river's connection to the historic explorations of Capt. John Smith in the 17th century," Pierce said.
"Geocaching is a great way to take part in outdoor activities because it is relatively low-cost, low-impact and a pretty low-key way to enjoy nature. We think that once people can connect with a special place like the Susquehanna, they are more inclined to care for it," Pierce said. "That can mean simply picking up some litter on their way to and from the cache, getting involved in a larger river cleanup or even joining the local watershed association or historic society to preserve these resources. We want the GeoTrail to be a fun way to inspire stewardship for the Susquehanna River."
Anyone who wants to stay informed of GeoTrail news and progress should sign up for the Susquehanna Greenway e-newsletter at www.susquehannagreenway.org.