Can a high-tech scavenger hunt for "Tupperware hidden in the woods" get more people interested in the great outdoors?
That was one of the great questions raised Saturday afternoon when the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newark opened up its trails and offered a full schedule of activities for its annual open house.
"We want people to connect to the outdoors through simple activities," said Carmen Minch, Newark's outdoor recreation planner.
Among the activities at the event were a plant sale, featuring only flora native to California, nature walks, puppet shows, instruction on identifying different ducks and an introduction to "geocaching" — a sort of treasure hunt, in which participants use Global Positioning System technology to find hidden items.
The goal of the event was to educate the public about the refuge, Minch said.
"Three years ago we were trying to think of a way to teach people about the National Refuge System," Minch said. "Most people don't know about the refuge system. They know a lot about national parks but not the refuge system."
"I think it's wonderful because it brings us into the park," visitor Wendy Weber said about the event.
REI Outdoor School — a provider of training in outdoor activities that's affiliated with the REI chain of outdoors-gear retail stores — led the presentation on geocaching, which it described as "using billions of dollars of military hardware to find Tupperware hidden in the woods."
Recently, the refuge created a program similar to geocaching to encourage more people to venture out to the seven wildlife refuges in the Bay Area.
"We are offering a multicache program, which is similar to geocaching," Minch said. Multicaching involves going to several different locations for clues before you reach the cache, Minch said.
It is illegal to geocache on the refuges because it is against the law to leave or take objects into the park, Minch said. Instead, the refuge system will have about 10 coordinates throughout refuge locations in Fremont, San Jose and Mountain View with questions and clues that lead to a cache.
"We're the only ones that put a cache here," she said. "You have to go to 10 different coordinates, then answer questions."
"It's another way of getting people to explore the outdoors," Minch added. "It's high tech and I think a lot of people can relate to that."
Steve Wood of REI Outdoor School gave a quick rundown of geocaching to an audience ranging in age from toddlers to seniors, then took them out with a GPS on a search for a cache.
"I think it's outstanding," Wood said of the refuge's plan to incorporate multicaching. "In our culture no we have so few people getting outdoors. Anything that gets people outdoors is fantastic."
"I think it's a great way to get people to come out," said Weber, who attended the event with her family. "I mean I'm not going to come out and bird-watch with my 4-year-old. It's something we can do together that bridges the interest and age group."