South Carolina Law Could Restrict Popular Internet Treasure Hunt

Geocaching is a popular outdoor activity which uses the internet and global positioning systems to help players find caches of hidden goodies. It's like a high-tech treasure hunt, and geocachers say it takes them to interesting spots.

Only now, Mark Musselman of the South Carolina Geocachers Association is concerned about a proposed state law to criminalize geocaching in certain sites without prior written permission from whoever owns or manages the property on which caches are hidden.

"I think it's completely unnecessary, and I think it's extremely discriminatory," Musselman said. "It doesn't say that you can't go into a cemetery, or you can't go to an archeological site, or you can't go to a place that's marked by a historic marker--which here in Beaufort, I'm sure there are plenty of historic markers. It just says that I can't go there if I'm using my GPS receiver."

Rep. Catherine Ceips (R-Beaufort) sponsors the bill (House Bill 3777), saying geocaching's growing popularity makes regulation necessary. "I think it's a great outdoors game for families and people interested in doing it," she said. "I think there's a proper place to do it and possibly an improper place to do it."

Some caches have involved cemeteries. Geocachers will tell you that no disrespect is meant, that it's about the local culture and historical context such places provide. Lawmakers, on the other hand, say it's just not right to play a game in a cemetery.

"I got involved with it because I had so many people that were concerned about people in their cemeteries," said Rep. Ceips. "They were unsure of what they doing and they weren't told what they were doing. From the discovery of what it're playing a game in a cemetery. And I've not talked to anybody that thinks that that's okay to do."

Musselman says he wishes Ceips had talked to him before introducing the bill.

"We are an organization that if we had been contacted originally, instead of year after, when the bill was finally submitted to the house floor, we could have had the problem resolved in a matter of days," he said. "Once we found out that those particular caches in those cemeteries was the issue, they were removed immediately, and within three days they were off the web pages, they were physically out of all those sites."

While Musselman and other geocachers we've spoken with don't think geocaching needs to be regulated by law, Ceips disagrees, saying it should be a misdemeanor to engage in geocaching, in the words of the bill, "in a cemetery or in an historic or archeological site or property publicly identified by an historical marker without the express written consent of the owner or entity which oversees that cemetery site or property."

The bill has passed the House and is currently in a Senate judiciary subcommittee, not likely to be taken up again till the next session begins in January. Musselman says the South Carolina Geocachers Association is working with the subcommittee in the hopes of drafting a compromise to satisfy everybody.

Reported by: Charles Gray,