If nothing goes wrong, more than 1,200 geocachers from at least 18 states — including Alaska — should be in Owensboro on Memorial Day weekend for the Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure.
It will be the biggest influx of tourists since the coronavirus pandemic hit a year ago and the first time the event has been held in Kentucky.
Jesse Tuttle, executive director of AFK Geocaching and organizer of the Owensboro event, said about 500 households have already signed up and he expects another 200 by the end of May.
An average of 1.8 people from each household participate in the events, he said.
Tuttle said MOGA, as the Midwest Open is known, “is typically the world’s largest geocaching competition mega event.”
He said, “Participants from around the world will travel to compete in the timed checkpoint, orienteering style event. Several activities will have attendees exploring attractions, shops and hometown restaurants within the region.”
The event is expected to have at least a $250,000 economic impact on the community, whose hotels and restaurants have been hard-hit by COVID.
Before coming to Owensboro, Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, led the Cincinnati East CVB.
While there, he helped build several GeoTrails in Cincinnati and partnered to host several geocaching events, including the 2015 Freedom GeoTrail event, the Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure in 2016 and GeoWoodstock in 2018.
The May MOGA is a preliminary for what Calitiri hopes will be an even bigger event.
The CVB is bidding to host GeoWoodstock XIX, the world’s largest geocaching festival, in May 2023.
That event would bring an estimated 3,000 people from several countries to town.
Chris Gendek, destination services manager for the CVB, said, “Having a national-level geocaching event during Memorial Day Weekend in 2021 is a great fit for a weekend that is normally slower for visitors coming to our community.”
He said GeoWoodstock, the world’s largest geocaching festival, would pump an estimated $800,000 into the local economy.
“We understand that Owensboro is a finalist for that worldwide event,” Gendek said.
“For those unfamiliar with geocaching, it’s a recreational activity of hunting and finding hidden objects,” Calitri said. “Participants use global positioning system receivers and devices to find caches, which are waterproof containers with logbooks, trinkets and other fun swag type items inside.”
The geocaches are hidden ammunition cases and cylinders with prizes in each.
GPS will take participants to the location of each case.
But Calitri said, “They might be buried in the ground or they might be 10 feet up a tree.”
Tuttle said, “Owensboro is very accessible. And there haven’t been many events like this in a year and a half.”
He’s hiding 60 “orienteering punches” in Yellow Creek Park and in the Rudy Mine section of Ben Hawes Park for people to find in 90 minutes.
Once they find the cylinders, they open them and punch the card.
“There’s only been one event where every punch (cylinder) wasn’t found,” Tuttle said.
He is also hiding 60 ammunition cans that will be left out year-round to attract geocachers to visit Owensboro on their own.
“People will come all the time,” Tuttle said. “It’s a long-term investment for the community. People want to do it.”
He will also be placing 10 to 20 yellow Minions that stand two-feet tall in businesses around the community.
Geocachers will visit the stores, find the Minions and remove a poker chip from them.
They’ll then go back to a central location where they’ll be dealt a poker hand.
The idea is to bring people to local businesses, Tuttle said.
The event is sponsored by the CVB, Daviess Fiscal Court and the Owensboro City Commission.
It’s called the “Barbeque, Bourbon, and Bluegrass GeoTour.”
Bigfoot?Promotions say geocachers will also be looking for Bigfoot.
“Kentucky is one of the strangest places in the country with accounts of UFO’s, flying creatures, Lizard Men, werewolves, and goblins,” one promotion says. “But one stands out above the rest — Bigfoot! Delve into the long, strange history of Bigfoot in the Bluegrass State that goes all the way back to the legend himself, Daniel Boone.”
Margaret Bedilion, director of Sales, Stay, Play, Made Simple, who is helping with housing, said, “As an incentive to reserve hotel rooms, we are offering visitors a 2021 commemorative Midwest Open Geocaching Adventure coin with each hotel reservation. We are anticipating the hotels in the area will be full.”
Calitri said, “This is an inventive way to attract a whole new customer base to visit our city.”
He said, “When outside groups come to Owensboro and stay in our hotels that is especially important. But it transcends beyond the room night and allows money to flow into many different local businesses.”
Chris Joslin, executive director of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, said tourism dollars support “the rise of small businesses, create jobs and attract new events and entertainment for families across our communities to enjoy.”
Claude Bacon, vice president of sales, marketing, and e-commerce at Owensboro-based LinGate Hospitality, said, “We must support new events that bring state and national attention to Owensboro. Many hotels, restaurants, small businesses and others need the inflow of visitors to survive in this time.”
LinGate operates the Holiday Inn and Courtyard Suites by Marriott in Owensboro.