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Anchors Aweigh in Superior!

New geocaching project highlights Great Lakes maritime history

By Marie Zhuikov

In the name of maritime history, Wisconsin maritime archeologists Tamara Thomsen and Caitlin Zant of the Wisconsin Historical Society recently zigzagged a path through Superior, Wis. Joining them were Brittany Berrens with the Superior-Douglas County Chamber of Commerce and Sara Blanck, executive director of the Superior Public Museums.

The first stop was unlikely – a popular burger and booze dive called the Anchor Bar and Grill. Known for its cheap and gut-busting burgers, the bar décor features maritime memorabilia on the inside. But what drew the foursome was the memorabilia on the outside: two types of anchors. While looking at a description on her smartphone, Zant explained the differences between the anchors and how they relate to the maritime history of the area.

The public is now privy to this information as well through six new geocaches located in Superior. Geocaching is a high-tech version of orienteering that relies on a hand-held Global Position System unit instead of a compass. Those who enjoy this activity begin at a known location, then use clues to decipher the coordinates of subsequent waypoints — ultimately finding a hidden container or cache.

“In some cases, geocaches can be intense,” Zant said. “These are much calmer.”

The geocaches in Superior are part of a Wisconsin Sea Grant-funded project designed to highlight the history of the state’s shipping industry. Other partners include the Superior Public Museums, the University of Wisconsin-Superior (UWS) Jim Dan Hill Library and the Wisconsin Historical Society. Besides the cache that highlights anchors, others offer information about lighthouses, shipbuilding and development of the large Port of Duluth-Superior.

On that recent day, the group of four used clues from one site to the next and ultimately located a small, well-concealed camouflaged container. Inside the cache were small “treasures,” and finders often leave their own calling cards.

One avid local had already found the cache even though it had only been posted that morning to the national geocaching website (www.geocaching.com). On the site’s log, he wrote that the cache had been fun to find. He added that he learned some local history and facts because of the experience.

“Superior Public Museums really enjoyed working on this geocaching project,” said the museums’ Executive Director Sara Blanck. “It was a fun way to collaborate with other organizations in a way that makes our rich local history engaging and accessible. As I was driving to work the other day, I saw a man bent over at the start point for one of the caches, counting the links on an anchor. It was really exciting to see someone out on the hunt for the cache, learning as they go.”

Thomsen and Zant chose the cache locations after consulting with local historical experts at UWS and Superior Public Museums. Eventually, the caches and other project information will be added to the Wisconsin Shipwrecks site (www.wisconsinshipwrecks.org). Other activities associated with this Sea Grant research project include updating the popular underwater dive guides for the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore shipwrecks, documenting vessels used on the Great Lakes for the stone trade, giving public presentations, and developing interpretive materials about the preservation and sustainable use of shipwrecks.

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