Portland Heritage Tree Geocache Series

By Carolee Harrison, Madelyn Miller, Sean Van Walchren, and Jeneveve Winchell ::

Creating public history in an age of apps and handheld devices presents a unique opportunity to allow participants to get up close and personal with the spaces they’re learning about. What better way to teach the history of some of Portland’s historic trees and parks than bringing community members, history buffs, and nature lovers alike to the very spots where history happened? That’s exactly what the Portland Heritage Tree Geocache Series aims to do.

To share the history of Portland’s Heritage Trees and the communities in which they’re located we placed small containers called “caches” on or near twenty designated Heritage Trees. Each container contains a brief history of the tree and a log for geocachers to sign and date. By linking the caches to the Official Geocaching App the trees are searchable using a smartphone, and a separate pdf  available through Portland Parks and Recreation allows geocachers to search technology-free.

Some trees include a Butternut that witnessed the start, boom and end of World War II, a Douglas fir  saved from destruction with the help of a handful of dairy cows, an oak that gives hope for the restoration of an overdeveloped wetland, and a madrone that’s withstood the rapid expansion of automobile ownership in the last half of the twentieth century.  By placing our caches primarily in areas outside of the city center we hope to highlight the histories of communities often overlooked. By partnering with Multnomah County Library and local community centers we are able to reach the communities whose stories it’s hoping to tell, while also bringing in visitors from other neighborhoods closer to the urban core.

To ensure longevity of the caches we chose to use waterproof paper for both the history and log sheet, stored in waterproof match cases. The histories include a brief history of the tree, neighborhood or both, plus QR codes linking to more information about the project as a whole. Knowing our project is aiming to serve an underprivileged community in Portland, we wanted to make the caches location accessible by a printable pdf in addition to the smartphone app, so as to not make the project prohibitively reliant on technology.

Cache placement proved to be the most challenging part of the project, as not every tree had a hiding spot in its immediate vicinity. This was mainly a problem both in city parks, which are frequently landscaped, and near private property, where the overlap of public and private space made finding a hiding spot that would not affect the privacy of nearby residents a challenge. Cache locations in Forest and Powell Butte Parks had to be chosen with safety in mind, as both trees are located along trails that follow shallow gulches geocachers should not be encouraged to go too near.

Ultimately, this project aims to bring history enthusiasts and community members outside of traditional education settings and to the places where history happened. This projects is accessible to seasoned geocachers and everyday Portlanders alike, and tells Portland’s shared history through the stories told by trees we pass by every day.

To learn more about the Portland Heritage Tree Geocache Series and search for caches yourself, download the Geocaching app or print the Portland Heritage Tree Geocache Series guide.