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Maritime history defines Superior geocaches

Gerry Hanson was the first to solve the anchor-themed mystery. After traveling through Superior, locating four distinct anchors and adding up clues, he found a small cache of prizes. Instead of taking any the Duluth man donated one of his own — a guitar pick.

“I just happen to have one,” said Hanson, who goes by the moniker “seventh” on “I’ve been meaning to learn to play but haven’t gotten to it.”

Now it lies in wait for the next sleuth.

A set of six geocaching sites were set up in Superior last week by Tamara Thomsen and Caitlin Zant of the Wisconsin Historical Society. The GPS-led treasure hunts zero in on the city’s rich maritime history — anchors, lighthouses, ore docks and shipbuilders. Funded through the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute, they bring history to a whole new audience.

“We’ve found that people who may not be interested in history per se are very interested in going somewhere and learning about what they’re seeing, and so we reach a whole different demographic of people,” Thomsen said. “Even though it’s just microcapsules of history we’re giving to people, it really is reaching a whole different crowd of people than we normally would.”

Fathers and daughters, Boy Scouts, summer-school classes and families can seek out the hidden caches to earn bragging rights, leave gifts or find prizes. The historical society has set up 27 such sites in the state over the past five years — 10 in Manitowoc, 11 in Door County and Superior’s six.

“We’ve had about 1,500 people who have found and left comments for the 21 that we already have up,” Thomsen said Friday.

The treasure hunts incorporate technology, GPS science and history. The ports puzzle includes a peek at a huge pile of coal and the chance to count the city’s grain elevators. The anchor hunt starts at a well-known Superior eating establishment. Wisconsin Point features prominently in the lighthouse search, and the port search points out which of the city’s ore docks are still in use. People who complete the challenges will get some exercise with their history.

“I find geocaching gives me a purpose to my hikes,” Hanson said. “I think I get more exercise with the goal of a cache ahead of me instead of just walking for exercise. I’ve been geocaching for three years now and I’m in better shape for it.”

He especially enjoyed tracking down the first three caches Thomsen and Zant set up — Anchors Aweigh Superior, Port of Superior and MacDougall’s Dream.

“I thought the caches were interesting and I did learn something from them,” Hanson wrote in an online review. “I would recommend them, especially the first three for kids. They were pretty easy finds and in the city near trails.” And, he said, he found some great new views of the harbor.

Thomsen and Zant are tasked with knowing the maritime history of the state. They rely on local historians, libraries and museums to find interesting local themes and get their facts straight. Superior Public Museums and the Jim Dan Hill Library staff, in particular, helped craft the caches.

Each route includes two information-gathering points before searchers get the coordinates of the cache. Then, there’s a hunt to find the well-hidden loot. Some follow city streets, others would make a nice hike or bike ride. The longest is seven miles. Consider them mini self-guided tours of this harbor city, Thomsen said.

Zant’s favorite new cache is the lighthouse one because it covers such interesting terrain. Thomsen favors the anchor quest.

“People drive past anchors all over the place,” she said. “This causes you to look at them in a different way.”

“It gets people to rediscover their own town,” Zant said.

How to find them

All of the caches are listed on People can find them by location through the 54880 ZIP code. A GPS unit or GPS-enabled mobile phone is needed to navigate these geocaching scavenger hunts.