Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity where participants (geocachers) utilize a handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or smartphone to download coordinates in order to navigate to the location of a hidden container, a geocache. Since its inception in 2000 geocaching has grown exponentially. The potential ecological and recreation management impacts of geocachers trekking to sites are only now emerging. This dissertation fills an important research and management gap by obtaining primary and secondary data from geocachers regarding their environmentally responsible behavior and exploring the reciprocal relationship between management decisions and geocacher’s behavior. The framework that guides this dissertation is the interplay of Environmentally Responsible Behavior (ERB) with the Theory of Reasoned Action/Theory of Planned Behavior.
The overarching goal of this study was to better understand geocacher behavior as a recreation activity and ecological perceptions that might affect environmental impacts. To achieve this goal, three studies relating to the behavior of geocachers were conducted: A Pilot Study (Chapter 2) at a nearby research forest; a global online Survey (Chapter 3) utilizing Driver’s (1983) Recreation Experience Preference scale; and a Case Study (Chapter 4) of the Badlands Wilderness Area in central Oregon. Results from self-reported behavior (Chapters 2 and 3), and onsite enumeration (Chapters 2 and 4) revealed clear evidence of environmental impacts, while also finding strong support for the environmental ethos espoused in the geocache code of ethics. The more difficult a find or unique the geocache, the more likely environmental damage occurred. Contributing factors to this attitude-behavior contradiction include the role that geocaching may have in participant’s self-identity, as well as attachment to place. Also transcending the studies, were diverse opinions regarding what constitutes an environmental impact. Together, these chapters provide a foundational understanding of geocacher’s perceptions and the social dynamics surrounding their behavior. This understanding can foster improved recreational land use management strategies, as well as inform recreational organizations’ environmentally responsible guidelines.