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Caching In – Meeting an FWC Challenge

Caching In; Meeting an FWC Challenge

By Peter Kleinhenz – Courtesy of MyFWC

For most people, life is a series of goals. Some want to make a lot of money, others want to see the world and still others strive for a happy and healthy family. These are arguably the most common goals for most of us. Some people need to challenge themselves even more. Case in point: Craig Hablewitz.

Craig, a 55-year-old software specialist for Florida Southwestern State College, described himself in a recent phone conversation as “fairly active.” I’d be curious to learn who he considers “very active” because fairly active for Craig means a few half marathons here, a few full marathons there and a love of exploring matched by very few people I know. Take his approach to geocaching, for instance.

It’s fair to describe the geocaching community as an active bunch. Scroll through the reports on geocaching.com, and you’ll find log entries from people who have searched for hidden caches in Finland, South Africa, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia to name just a few of the listed countries. Craig, as you will see, takes geocaching to a whole new level.

This year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) placed 49 geocaches on the wildlife management areas it oversees in celebration of the 75th anniversary of Florida’s wildlife management area system. Each geocache has a code under the lid that must be entered for the find to count. Beginning on March 6, anyone who finds all of the geocaches wins a prize pack. Craig, a man who had previously found each geocache hidden on Florida’s state parks, was intrigued.

“I like a challenge,” Craig understated. “I found the first one, which was Lake Wales Ridge [Wildlife and Environmental Area]. I checked for caches to look for on my way back from Orlando to Fort Myers, and saw that nobody had found a couple of them yet, one of them being Lake Wales Ridge. So I went out there and found it, was the first one to find it. Came back and, when I was logging it into the website, noticed that it was actually part of a series. I knew when I found this first one that it was a challenge and, of course the prize at the end, I knew that I would end up doing it eventually.”

And so began Craig’s quest to find every WMA geocache in Florida. These WMAs exist from near Pensacola to the Florida Keys and many of them aren’t exactly right off the interstate. Yet by May 22, Craig had found every one and became the first person to complete the challenge. So, how did he do it?

“I had a plan,” Craig divulged. “I travel around the state a lot. What I did was download a map of where all the WMA caches were and then, each time I’d go to a race or something, I’d look at the route I’d take. And, on the way or on the way back, I’d kind of clear a swath of all the geocaches.”

Some, it turned out, were easier to find than others. Craig told me one particularly harrowing story about his experience trying to find the cache at the Hickory Mound Unit of Big Bend WMA.

“Hickory Mound was hidden in a little shelter area and the bridge going over to the shelter area had been pretty much taken apart, pretty much destroyed [by Hurricane Hermine], so it was a balance beam act across the water. And that one I actually did at night. That…was interesting. I rode my mountain bike, a possum jumped out in front of me, there was water on both sides, lots of noises…and then doing that balance beam across the water. Yeah, it gets your blood going.”

On the contrary, other WMAs Craig visited seemed to slow his pulse. I asked him about his favorite WMA experience and he described something that I think every visitor to a Florida WMA can identify with.

Craig explains, “[My favorite] is actually the Osprey Unit of Hilochee WMA. It’s the one right near Orlando. I travel up to Orlando a lot and cut up to I-4 and it’s right off of there. I’ve been through that area quite a bit, never knowing that there was a WMA right there. So when I went to it, it was just really pristine-looking, there’s a nice lake. It was a nice walk around it. You could still hear, off in the distance, the traffic on I-4 but, other than that, you’d think you were in an idyllic little setting out there in the woods.”

Most of us who challenge ourselves with outdoor goals, whether it’s catching every type of saltwater sport fish or hiking the Appalachian Trail, partially pursue these to experience moments like the one Craig mentioned above. It’s the little things, the stops along the way that surprise you and cause you to slow down for a second, that make it all worth it.

I find Craig’s accomplishment inspiring, and I hope that you do too. WMAs are scattered all over Florida and truly include Florida’s wildest parcels. This was not an easy feat to pull off, but he developed a new perspective as a result.

“I really didn’t know a whole lot about [WMAs] before I started this series,” Craig expressed. “It’s amazing to see how much of Florida is put aside for people to use and they don’t even know it’s there.”

“It’s just, it’s great being out there,” Craig adds. “You don’t realize when you’re trying to fight through traffic on I-4 or something just how close wild Florida is.”

In other words, if your personal goals involve nature, you don’t have to travel statewide and complete the geocaching challenge. The only challenge you truly face is figuring out where to begin.

Would you like to try the geocaching challenge for yourself? It’s easy to get started (remember your bug spray) and it’s easy to find a WMA near you. If geocaching across the state is a little too intense, get involved with our 75th Anniversary photo contest. It’s a great way to experience our WMAs and, best of all, you can still win prizes! Whichever option you choose, you’ll likely see amazing wildlife, so be sure to log your finds onto our Florida Nature Trackers program. This program uses iNaturalist to log observations of Florida’s species and helps us better understand their distribution.

All photographs in this issue are by Craig Hablewitz.