Letterboxing treasure hunt under way

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published April 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated April 5, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.
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Wayne Bryan

Valerie Derryberry, a member of the Hot Springs Village Trails Committee, takes a rubber stamp from a letterbox placed along a lakeside trail. The stamp is one of nine that residents are asked to find during April. Participants will record the stamps on a contest form. Those who collect all nine will be invited to a picnic in May.

One of the most advertised features of Hot Springs Village is the trail system that runs through the world’s largest gated community.

“My husband and I fell in love with the trails during our first visit to the Village,” said Ginger Tanner, who moved to the community five years ago from Dallas and now chairs the Trails Committee for the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association. “The trails have some very dedicated fans, but some people have never been on a trail. Our mission is to get people out on the trails to see the beauty and nature in the Village.”

Tanner said the committee has two events a year to entice residents to walk the trails, or at least drive their golf carts along the wide pathways through the woods and along the lakes and waterways in the community.

“Last fall we had a a marathon — of sorts,” Tanner said. “People could walk 26 miles of the trails during the month of October. They would log in when they entered and left the trails. It was an honor system.”

Looking for something new to do this year, a committee member brought in an idea she found in a syndicated newspaper column.

“We were searching for a theme,” said Valerie Derryberry, a Trails Committee member. “I read about Letterboxing in ‘Hints From Heloise.’ It looked like it could be fun.

The committee placed weatherproof boxes, each with a rubber stamp inside, along nine of the major trails that crisscross the Village. The idea is that a resident walking along the trail will find the box.

“It’s not hard; they are usually under or on the bench,” Derryberry said. “The traveler uses the stamp in the box [an ink pad is also inside] to stamp a registration form they received when they signed up for the letterbox treasure hunt.”

Everyone who collects all nine stamps during April will be invited to a picnic at the Balboa Pavilion on May 21.

Letterboxing started at Dartmoor National Park in South West England. A park guide left a bottle along a trail with his calling card, inviting travelers to add their cards. Over time, hikers left self-addressed post cards or notes in the bottle, in hopes that they would be returned in the mail by the next visitor. From that development, the term was called letterboxing. The word “letterbox” is British for what Americans call a mailbox.

When the idea was first suggested, the boxes were going to be hidden a bit better, Derryberry said, and they would be found by geocaching, using hand-held GPS devices to locate the box and log in its coordinates.

“But not everybody has one of those devices, and we thought many of our residents might not be into that technology,” she said. “So we made it easy with clues and everything in plain sight. We will see how people do with it — maybe make it a little harder next time.”

Most people who sign up are expected to collect all the stamps.

“We are telling them the exact bench where the box is located,” Tanner said.

Each bench is named after a Hot Springs Village resident. Some are named for the person who paid for the bench, and some are memorials for friends or to honor a neighbor.

Derryberry said the names are helpful in locating someone during an emergency.

“Our 911 service has the location of every bench, and the name can be used by a person in trouble to give their location,” she said. “Or the names can be used by the dispatcher to give directions to first responders.”

The number of trails in the contest was reached “scientifically,” Derryberry said.

“We had nine stamps, so nine trails,” she said with a laugh. “All the stamps have things found in nature, like leaves, flowers or insects.”

The number of people who complete the twice-yearly challenge from the Trail Committee has been growing every year, Tanner said.

“Two years ago, we had 40 to 45 people complete the contest, and last year it was 130,” she said. “We think there will be more this year.”

Tanner said the picnic is a good outing and usually includes some prizes.

The treasure boxes have been on the trails since April 1. For a stamp registration form or more information about the letterbox challenge, call the Hot Springs Village Department of Recreation at (501) 922-0322.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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