The MCA Geocoin Project | TeamTaylorMT

When the Montana Climate Assessment (MCA) was published in September 2017, Suzi Taylor seized the opportunity to connect environmental researchers and geocachers in a state-wide geocoin launch. I first heard about this interesting project on Geocaching Montana’s Facebook page. Suzi (aka TeamTaylorMT) explained that she was working with a geocaching educational outreach project out of Montana State University and the Montana Institute on Ecosystems to spread the publication of the MCA.  They set a goal of hiding one geocoin in each of Montana’s 56 counties. She then requested all interested cachers to fill out a short form claiming one or two counties, along with their geocaching name and creative ideas to obtain a geocoin without mailing them, if possible.  After a month of this announcement, all coins have been adopted, and almost half have begun their journeys. Here’s my geocoin’s launch story, and Suzi’s perspective throughout this project.

My MCA Geocoin’s Launch Story

Of course, when she posted about this exciting mission on November 2nd, I instantly wanted to participate. However, I’m located in the northwest corner of North Dakota, Montana’s favorite border buddy, and I didn’t want to steal a cacher’s spot, even though Suzi said we could participate if we planned to travel to a Montana county…so I waited about a week. Then, I googled Montana’s county map, finding Daniels, an area I have never cached and located fairly close to home (less than a 2 hour drive). Scobey, Montana sounded like a fun day trip destination.

Shortly after providing information, I received the geocoin and letter with detailed instructions for activating and building my given coin’s page. Suzi made it super easy to create the trackable’s page. Check mine out here.  She also made sure that we had to read at least a little of the MCA to fully complete the checklist she asked of us. What a creative way to get more eyes checking out this interesting assessment on Montana’s environment!

Suzi has been super organized, sending email updates, posting on Facebook, and communicating with multiple other people. Her friend, MJ, has helped with the forms and created a map for everyone to view the travels of these chosen 56 coins. She’s thrilled with the response thus far. Within 3 weeks, all 56 geocoins were adopted, and many had been launched into the wild. AKA Shutterbug receives bragging rights as FTL (First to Launch), releasing her coin in Silver Box County on November 6th.

When we set off to launch our geocoin into the vast county of Daniels, we were grateful for gorgeous weather, a tad chilly, but sunny. Only a little snow had fallen, which thankfully didn’t hinder our cache searching. We chose Scobey as our destination, a town of a little over a thousand residents, since we knew it would have a gas station and nice handful of hides. One of these hides was the perfect location to start my coin’s journey, an extremely winter-friendly cache residing in a park’s enclosed shelter with a door and everything! How nice, right?  I took my selfie dropping off the coin, and then I ran back to the car, where Sophia and Jon were waiting.

Initially, we planned to go to a park and let Sophia run around, but the cold temperature confided to Sophia to the car – we did unbuckle her a few times and let her roam the back seat while we parked at a cache location. On our way out of town, a cache provided a cute zebra swag item, Sophia’s favorite toy for the ride home. We ended our day at Culbertson’s Me Too Pizza, one of those delicious discoveries contributed to our geocaching day trips. Yum-ilicious.

On the left is Sophia’s “so serious” face, and on the right, she is giving the zebra a kiss or a hug, or maybe both haha.

An Interview with Suzi

Suzi became a bit of a celebrity overnight it sounds! Emails, comments, likes, and more notifications flooded her inboxes. I knew this would make an excellent story, so I was one of the many to send an email to Suzi, requesting a short interview, and she kindly obliged. I’ve never heard of such a geocoin launch, or really anything comparable to Suzi’s project. She contributes a lot for her area throughout the year, organizing activities such as online classes, workshops, kids’ camps, and more to make science, technology, engineering, and math interesting to the average community member, and when she could combine her love of geocaching with her work, she was ecstatic. I was curious about some of those behind-the-project tidbits, like her geocaching story and highlights during her adventures.

I found my first geocache in August 2009. I had heard about this interesting activity and thought I would give it a whirl! I didn’t know anyone who was doing it, so I just figured it out from the Internet. Back then, we used a GPS, not a smart phone, so it was a little bit tougher to figure it all out. I took my family out with me on a rainy afternoon, we found our first cache, and we were hooked! My kids were just 3 and 9 back then, so it was a great way to get them out of the house and out hiking. I also travel fairly often for work, so it was a fun activity for me to do in each new city I visited.

Some of the highlights of my own geocaching story are – finding my first night cache (in Illinois) and then making my own in Bozeman; –finding geocaches in Paris and actually getting locked into a cemetery while looking for one; –talking to my kids on my cell phone while trying to get a Webcam cache with the sea lions at Fisherman’s Wharf –getting to visit Geocaching HQ in Seattle and finding all the cool caches around their Fremont neighborhood. 

But mostly, it has just been great memories of caching with my friends, family and co-workers (you know if you go to a work conference with Suzi, you’re going out geocaching!!)

A project like this takes a bit of brainstorming and connections, so I asked Suzi about her process and inspiration for the geocoin’s design – the star of the show.

I started out by just writing down all my ideas in a Google Doc and then I asked DC Hiker (aka Lynn Powers of Bozeman) to help me think it through. She had some great ideas, too. She suggested that I work with Lisa Breitenfeldt at Cache Advance in Spokane for the coin. I called up Lisa and talked to her about the project. She was also really enthusiastic and helpful, and helped design the Geocoin based on the logo for the Montana Climate Assessment. About that time, I also sent an email to the list-serv of the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, just seeing if there were any people out there interested in geocaching. I got several responses right off the bat from Butte, Missoula, West Glacier and Bozeman. I also sent a random email to Geocaching HQ and — guess what! — the person who emailed me back, Ellis Bennett, had worked in Gardiner, Montana! She also had some great ideas and support from HQ. All of these folks from the geocaching community have been so helpful and great to bounce ideas off of.

The start of this project seemed to go quite smoothly. Geocachers, Suzi mentioned, are reliable and enthusiastic. Now, what are her hopes for the future?

I have a couple of hopes for the project. One is that this is a reason for people to check out the Montana Climate Assessment, which is a project I really believe in. It’s a scientific document that was written by dozens of researchers across Montana and with the input from nearly 1,000 stakeholders. I thought it might be something that interests people who are into our planet and our state. The other hope is that the PR for the project could give a little plug to geocaching, which is such a great activity! Maybe hearing about the project would encourage people to check out geocaching for the first time, or for veteran cachers to take out a new person.

My hope is that the coins travel all over Montana and beyond (and don’t get stolen). I would love for geocachers to look at the maps of all these Geocoins as they travel and think some more about our great state of Montana. I would also really love to share this project with people at other universities who are involved in outreach, because I can’t think of too many other ways to get so many awesome people from every county involved in a project! I love that other cachers are interested in the project and how it turns out. 

Meet You in Montana!

Who’s planning their next caching trip to search for one of these coins?! I’m interested in seeing who will discover and move the most MCA geocoins, plus I get to watch my own coin travel, which is always fun.

To read more about this project and view the coins’ travels, you can visit the web page here. Suzi can be contacted at taylor@montana.edu, and her geocaching user name is TeamTaylorMT.

Let me know if you find one of these geocoins! I’ll be using #MCAGeocoinProject on social media when posting a photo with this coin – feel free to use this too, if you uncover one of these beauties.

Thanks for reading!

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