The Conway Fire Department Bomb Squad's robot now has two geocache "finds" to its credit.
The bomb squad was called out to Tilk Road southeast of Cantrell Field at about 10:30 Tuesday morning to investigate a suspicious container near the FedEx Freight building. A green metal ammunition can was found and though it was labeled as a geocache, they used the bomb disposal robot to destroy it.
Geocaching is a hobby in which a "geocacher" places a container of some sort at an out-of-the-way or hidden location pinpointed with GPS coordinates. The geocacher then reports the coordinates on a geocaching Web site, most commonly www.geocaching.com, and challenge other geocachers to find it using handheld GPS receivers. Inside the containers are usually trinkets or other items that a geocacher making a "find" replaces with items of similar value. Often there is also a logbook for geocachers to sign.
It's an interesting hobby and probably lots of fun, Conway Fire Chief Bart Castleberry said, but to the bomb squad a suspicious container is a suspicious container; they're not going to send someone to open it with their hands when they can send the robot to open it with its high-velocity water cannon.
Assistant Fire Chief Mike Winter added that the stickers identifying a container as a geocache aren't going to change the way the bomb squad deals with them. Anyone could put those stickers on, Winter said, possibly to disguise an actual explosive device as a harmless geocache.
The man who did put the stickers on, Tim Stone from Conway, was the same man who placed the geocache in a patch of roadside shrubbery along Prince Street that resulted in a bomb squad call-out on Nov. 15.
Stone said he went back and made sure all his geocaches were clearly labeled after the Prince Street incident. He said he thought "surely we were at the point" where a labeled geocache wasn't going to spark a bomb scare, but conceded that "there's always the chance that somebody might slip (explosives) into a box and write 'geocache' on it."
Stone also said his contact phone number was probably not included in his geocache's labeling, as was advised by District Fire Chief Jon McMahan in November.
When Stone was contacted Tuesday night after being notified that the bomb squad robot had found another of his geocaches, he said he was re-visiting his geocaches and replacing their containers with clear plastic ones.
"That way if somebody happens across one they'll just see a container full of trinkets rather than an ammo can or something they might think is suspicious," he said.
Stone said he would e-mail or call other local geocachers and advise them to do the same.
Clear plastic containers "would definitely help," Castleberry said, and Conway Chief of Police A. J. Gary also said it sounded like a good idea. Gary has made arrangements to get in touch with Stone to arrange a meeting between geocachers and police/fire officials to "find some middle ground where they can enjoy their sport without causing us to spend our time and effort on more situations like this."
Both geocachers and police officials made efforts to set up such a meeting in November, but none came to fruition.
According to www.geocaching.org, over 600 geocaches exist in or near Conway, with most of them having been found within the last few days or weeks by dozens of active geocachers in the area. Picking up trash while looking for caches "is an activity intimately tied to geocaching," according to the Web site.
The hobby has also led to run-ins with bomb squads across the country, Castleberry said.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 505-1238. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)