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Volunteer Spotlight – The Geocaching Duo

Husband and wife team design and place 60 geocaches at Niobrara State Park.

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Liz and Gary Doerr of Creighton designed and placed about 60 geocaches at Niobrara State Park.

Photo courtesy of Liz Doerr

By Renae Blum

Thanks to Liz and Gary Doerr of Creighton, guests at Niobrara State Park in northeastern Nebraska have new ways to enjoy their visit.

The couple has designed and placed about 60 geocaches at the park, allowing visitors to use their GPS or phone to discover hidden treasures – containers of various shapes and sizes holding a logbook and, sometimes, small trinkets for trade. Geocaching is an outdoor activity available across the world, and the Doerrs have helped make sure it has a strong presence at Niobrara State Park.

They also find ways to connect others with their geocaching hobby. Each year, Gary and Liz host a popular event with s’mores for campers, followed by a day of geocaching where new caches are unveiled. They also introduce kids to geocaching at the park’s annual Outdoor Rendezvous and serve as campground hosts several times a year.

“They continue to bring more patrons to Niobrara State Park,” said superintendent Cogan Thompson. “We are very fortunate to have them on our team.”

The Doerr’s geocaching station at the park’s annual Outdoor Education Rendezvous in May. Photo by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley, Nebraskaland Magazine.

Geocaching at Niobrara

Liz and Gary have created a variety of different geocaches at Niobrara State Park.

“Some of them are made with a 3D printer; some of them are as easy as taking two bottlecaps and gluing them together,” Gary said. “There’s ammunition cans and stuff like that. It’s just kind of whatever we can come up with.”

Different types of caches are available, too. “Some are more of a puzzle, and you have to figure out how to open them,” Liz said. “Some are just simple. Some of them are multi-stages, where you go to one spot and have to answer some questions, like off a historical sign, and that’ll give you the clue to where the final one is.”

Other caches are placed at spots with historical context, which Liz and Gary enjoy writing out for visitors in the cache descriptions.

A mushroom-shaped geocache at Niobrara State Park. Photo by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley, Nebraskaland Magazine.

Throughout building the caches, designing the clues and selecting hiding spots, the Doerrs keep one goal in mind: They want you to find them.

“There’s a couple [of caches] that are just nasty. But probably 90 percent of them could be found by a preschooler,” Gary said. “The people that go out there with little kids, I want them to find them. I don’t want them to come home disappointed.”

It seems to be working: When Gary glances through the logbooks inside the caches, he sees comments like, “This is the first one we’ve ever found.” And he receives notifications that people are finding his and Liz’s caches all year round, even in winter.

Most visitors use the Geocaching app to find the caches, but Gary and Liz have also donated a GPS to the park that anyone can check out during their stay.

About 20 of the 60 caches are free to view for anyone, according to Geocaching.com rules, but you need to be a Premium member to view more difficult caches.

A geocoin the Doerrs designed for Niobrara State Park with tracking code. The Doerrs also designed pathtags and a walking stick medallion. Money raised from the sale of these items helped purchase a GPS device for visitors to use while geocaching at the park, as well as a bench at the playground in Niobrara’s campground. Photo courtesy of Liz Doerr.

A Family Event

Once a year, while serving as campground hosts, Gary and Liz host an evening event at Niobrara called “S’mores with the Doerrs.” All the campers gather around to make s’mores and tell stories by the campfire.

The following day is focused on geocaching, called “Event with a View” because of the park’s gorgeous vistas. New caches are activated for the eager crowd to find, and the official event concludes with a potluck lunch and door prizes.

Last year, the event produced 18 camper reservations, with 40 people from five states participating.

The Doerrs see a lot of repeat participants. “It’s just kind of like a family event,” Gary said. “Everybody knows each other.”

Liz Doerr smiling in the foreground during a “S’mores with the Doerrs” event at Niobrara State Park. Photo courtesy of Liz Doerr.

At the same time, the event continues to grow, and new people are welcome. “When new people come to the event, they are friends before the weekend is over,” Liz said. And if you’ve never geocached before, Liz and Gary are happy to help, as are the other participants.

Part of the appeal of the camping portion of the event is how peaceful the park is. Niobrara’s campground has a family-oriented atmosphere, Gary and Liz said, so it’s quiet at night – a big draw for them as volunteers.

Liz guesses that the event is now in its 10th year. This summer, the dates are set for July 26-28; watch Geocaching.com or Calendar.OutdoorNebraska.gov for details.

Outside the Park

Gary and Liz first discovered geocaching when visiting Liz’s sister, who told them about a geocacher who visited their neighbor’s house.

“It was a puzzle one and they were there for a while, trying to figure out how to open it,” Liz said. “We didn’t know what they were talking about. So, we went home and looked it up.

“And we were amazed. [Caches] are everywhere. All over the world. And it just kind of blossomed from there.”

They love the opportunity to get out and experience something new. One of Gary’s favorite geocaching experiences was in Texas, at the gravesites of Tom Landry and Mickey Mantle.

Gary Doerr presenting a GPS device to then park superintendent Mark Rettig for visitor use, which were purchased with funds earned from the sale of geocoins, pathtags and walking stick medallions that Gary and his wife, Liz, designed. Photo courtesy of Liz Doerr.

“It’s things like that, that the average traveler wouldn’t find,” Liz said.

Outside of their volunteering work at Niobrara, Gary and Liz stay busy with church, family and their farm, where they raise hogs and grow corns and soybeans. Liz retired from work as a zoning administrator and helps provide childcare for family, along with helping on the farm.

They’ve had a good experience volunteering at Niobrara and recommend it to others.

“It’s been a lot of fun. If someone’s got the time to do it – not only at Niobrara, but at any of the state parks – it’d be well worth your time,” Gary said.

Niobrara State Park is located in Niobrara, Neb., at 89261 522 Ave. Learn more – and buy your park permit to gain entrance – at OutdoorNebraska.gov.

About renae blum

Renae works for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and has written for NEBRASKAland Magazine and the Lincoln Journal Star.

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