Monday, July 23, 2007

Permits and Policies Updates

During the last 7 days, I have met with city park officials from Columbia (Mike Griggs today) and also from Jefferson City (Mike Bollinger last Monday) and given the state parks systems a heads up that I will be sending recommendations thier way as well. Ahistory attended the meeting with me today with Columbia Parks and Rec (CPR). During the meeting, we discussed respective parks policies with regard to letterboxing and geocaching. The following is a synopsis of the major points that came from those discussions.

Before we began, the City of Columbia Parks and Rec (CPR) shared that their policy was written about a year ago, and that they had worked with state officials to draft it after their park staff found several geocaches that gave them cause for concern (such as in landscaped flower beds where people were trampling flowers to get to the box). To write the policy they did consult with geocachers but not with letterboxers. One of the reasons they may have failed to find letterboxers to include in their discussion is that the policy lists as the website (instead of "dot org"). Also, in the post-911 climate, ammo boxes anywhere might be cause for concern. They city did say that more and more geocachers are now using plastic containers instead of ammo boxes.

The other main concern CPR had was knowing the location of the various boxes, and making sure that they were not being too saturated within any given park. The city has about 2400 acres throughout their park system which is roughly the same size as Rock Bridge State Park (2275 acres). Consequently, they had already removed the state park's restriction of one box per 200 acres as they would be able to grant few permits if that restriction were left in place.

The main concerns Ahistory and I had can be summarized as follows: 1) Letterboxing and geocaching are both treasure hunt activities but it is important to note that there are significant differences. If one policy is going to address both activities, it needs to clearly define the difference between the activities and create rules that are fair to both. A lot of the city's policy language was written specifically for geocaching and mentioned letterboxing almost as an afterthought (in part because it was modeled on the state policy which does exactly the same thing)
2) I wanted to re-examine and clarify the restrictions placed on the number of boxes allowed per person, the areas in which they could be placed, and the length they would be allowed to remain. The restrictions are in place for safety and to minimize panic from poorly placed boxes (e.g., an ammo box near a highway bridge or playground might raise cause for alarm).

To achieve these goals, I drafted a revised policy including with it all the changes we'd like to see to the language to make it more user-friendly. CPR agreed to review it and post the changes to the website.
Here are some of the points we agreed on:
--CPR agreed to modify the language of the policy to expand and clarify the definition of geocaching and letterboxing and some of the terms related to the two activities. I suggested the use of the word "treasure container" instead of cache as a more neutral term that covers both activities.
--CPR requested that each box with labeled with the name of the box and the name of the placer and include some sort of text about what letterboxing is and what people should do with the box once they find it. This way, it would make it easier for them to identify which box is which and easier to contact the placer if the box needs to be pulled for maintenance, or if it found by the unsuspecting person or animal who may have moved it from its original location. To help officials locate the box, they would like a photo (preferably digital) included with the permit application that shows the hiding place of the box. We agreed these were all reasonable and appropriate requests. The text to be included can be different from person to person but we will submit an example that other letterboxers can use as a model.
--The current language limits people to two permits per person per park. CPR agreed to grandfather in exisiting boxes as long as they were permitted. To simplify the process, they agreed that each person with one or more boxes already in place could fill out one permit listing all of the boxes in whatever parks they currently have, and all of those boxes would be up for renewal by this time next year.
--They also agreed to review the 2 permit per person per park rule since there is some conflict with boxes that are placed in series. The current language allows a person to put a "multi-cache' of up to five boxes on one permit. This would mean that one person could potentially put out two series each with five boxes whereas another person who might like to place three separate boxes on separate permits would only be permitted to place two of those three. While we did not agree on specific language for this policy, they are open to suggestions.
--Lastly, our last major accomplishment (and the most important in my opinon) is the following: The current language requires that boxes be removed or re-located after 12 months. For a letterboxer in which the clue and the route to the box is an essential part of the box, this policy is quite disconcerting, especially if we have already placed a box in an area that should casue minimal or no impact. We agreed with CPR that permits should be renewed on a yearly basis so that they know the box is still active. CPR also agreed that box could remain in place as long as no damage was being caused (such as trampled vegetation or new trails).

There were also a few other minor discussion points, but more on that later. Also, more later on my meeting results with Jeff City Parks and Rec. If anyone would like to review my draft and recommendations, please shoot me an e-mail at difoxfire (at) hotmail (dot) com.
I am hoping that if the city agrees to our recommendations, it will give us more weight when we go to try and convince the state and federal agencies.

I would also be happy to address any questions.


ahistory said...

Way to go Fox-fyr. You are due a keg of root beer for your hard work and dedication to the cause. I know that cleared a lot of red tape up for me only having to fill out one permit.

I myself was very pleased with how open they were to our concerns. They seem to be willing to interpret the policy very loosely in defining areas like athletic fields and golf courses. Their main concern is to keep people out of the line of fire, so the woods along a golf course is ok as long as its not right on the edge or encourages people to trek across any of the course itself. CPS did express a concern about placing boxes in places that are closed by park personnel. Rainbow was specifically mentioned because they often close the entire complex due to rain and at night. I think though if I clue clearly stated such rules and discouraged any inappropriate access would be permissible. We didn't discuss any specific boxes per se, this is just an example of their lenient interpretation.

Once again hats of to Fox-fyr for her due diligence and diplomacy.

Jenny J said...

Yes, many thanks to you, Foxfyr, for putting so much of your time and effort into this!

queenbusick said...

Fox-fyr...what a fabulous outcome! Thank you for being our blazing diplomat and I hear that the concerns re: having a policy are very legitimate esp if they are in ammo boxes!

Again, thank you for making our LB community a peace seeking organization and not 'demanding' it be our way or the highway! A good voice has spoken, so it was heard by the staff!

Fox-fyr said...

As promised here are my comments on my meeting with Mike Bollinger of Jefferson City Parks and Recreation.
I met with Mike on Monday, July 16 to discuss the Jeff City Parks and Recreation (JCPR) geocaching policy and see how it applied to letterboxes.

The policy is short enough that it is posted below (just substitute the word letterbox for cache, and there you have it).

Parks and Recreation allows geocaching in the Jefferson City Parks system under the following guidelines:
1. Caches shall not be placed within 100 feet of playgrounds, ballfields, pavilions, and restricted or private drives. For safety reasons, caches will not be permitted anywhere at the Oak Hills Golf Center.
2. When placing caches in the park system, no digging or any other kind of disruption of the ground will be permitted.
3. Caches shall be clearly labeled as a geocache and include an explanation of what it is in the event it is found by non-geocachers. At the very least, contact information should be included on or inside the cache with the description of the cache as well as the name of the cache as listed on the Web site.
4. Please include a detailed description of the cache location in the encoded "hints" section that will guide a finder to the location without difficulty.
5. In order to see the geographical impact of geocaching, the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Department encourages the finder to submit his name, city and state on the official geocache web site once a cache is located in a city park.
6. Geocachers are allowed to place a cache on Jefferson City Parks and Recreation property so long as they comply with the restrictions stated above. Caches found not to be in compliance with this policy may be removed at the discretion of department staff.

Here is a summary: Find a suitable place to plant a box (see below for restricted areas), make sure the box is labeled somehow as a letterbox and include a short explanation of what letterboxing is. Be sure to include the name of the box as listed on the website and your trailname so park officials can contact you if needed. Write clues so that the finder can find the box without difficulty (so they don't have to wander all over the place trampling vegetation while looking for it), then send an e-mail to JCPR letting them know where the box is. They also requested that somewhere in either the clue or the box we provide an e-mail address for Jeff City parks and Rec. They do not want to be contacted every time the box is found but want the e-mail available in case someone needs to report maintenance needs in the park (such as trees down across trails) or suspicious activity.

We also discussed things that were not specified in the policy such as how long a box may stay, how many boxes a person may place, etc. Basically, the box may stay as long as it is not causing negative impact and that we do not end up over-saturating an area. Therefore, we need to be responsible when considering where to place a box and how many we place. I think we have done a pretty good job of it in mid-Missouri (except maybe in Cosmo Park), but we need to continue to self-monitor our activities so that this policy will remain in place as written.

We also discussed the possibility of hosting Gatherings in Jeff City Parks and what rules would apply to events vs. individual boxes. Here is a summary of some of the discussion:

1. Would boxes for Gatherings have to be placed on a temporary basis or could they be long-term? Answer: long-term is okay as long as park staff know the box location. Park staff may also like to use such boxes for Letterboxing 101 programs. (They do that something similiar already with the geocaches placed in their parks.)

2. Would events need to have insurance (FYI, Missouri State Parks requires a $2 million dollar insurances for events open to the public which is why the St. Louis Area geocachers did not host their annual spring event in a Missouri state park the last two years).
Answer: No, if Jeff City Parks an Rec is co-sponsoring the event. They would like to be listed on any advertising or invitation as a co-sponsor.

3. Here is the best part: While we have kept the location fairly secret in the past for upcoming Gatherings, I am breaking with that tradition so that I can request a favor. If you decide to plant boxes in Jefferson between now and next May, you may want to place them in a park other than Binder Lake so that we have plenty of room for Spring Gathering boxes. I've already booked a date so that we can lock in the use of the shelter house.
In exchange for agreeing to let Jeff City Parks and Rec co-sponsor the event, they are willing to waive some significant fees including the cost of the shelter house (which normally rents for $10 an hour). We also agreed to a few other things, but I don't want to spoil all the other surprises just yet.