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Utah state parks for the past 50 years have preserved places often described as hidden treasures.
In celebration of the system's 50th anniversary, Utah State Parks and Recreation is inviting visitors to hunt for another type of hidden treasure.
The agency has begun a geocaching contest that enables park visitors to use their own or borrowed global positioning systems (GPS) to find boxes containing prizes such as special commemorative 50th anniversary coins, bracelets and other trinkets hidden in 40 state parks.
The boxes containing the treasures might be found anywhere inside a park. Three are on water and can be reached only by boat.
"The parks are placing these geocaches in locations that show off the highlights of the park," said Bob Hanover, manager at Fremont Indian State Park and a former president of the Utah Association of Geocachers. "Visitors can see wonderful scenery, a new dock that people didn't realize was there or a new campground. They will find those things and say 'I forgot how nice state parks really are.' "
Hanover said geocaching is basically a high-tech treasure hunt.
A container or an object is placed somewhere in the world. GPS coordinates for it are posted on the Internet and people search for it. Some "caches" contain a log book to sign while others, like the Utah State Parks boxes, contain treasures that are often traded by enthusiasts.
To participate in Utah's program, treasure hunters first will log on to http://www.geocaching.com and put "Utah State Parks" in the site's search box. That will provide a list of longitude and latitude coordinates for geocaches at each of the park sites in Utah. Then, either by using their own GPS devices or borrowing one of 80 free devices available at state parks, participants can use the coordinates to find the boxes containing the treasures. GPS devices will put treasure hunters between 6 and 20 feet of each box.
Parks spokeswoman Deena Loyola said GPS manufacturer Magellan donated 80 of the units for public use during the anniversary program. They can be "rented" free of charge at entrance stations in the state park system, where employees also will give detailed instructions on how to use them.
Some of the parks have come up with unusual treasure hunts.
At Antelope Island, for example, manager Ron Taylor said those trying to find the treasure must follow instructions that will lead to four different clues, which then must be unscrambled to find the actual site.
"I taught my grandkids how to use a GPS unit," he said. "All I did was drive."
The Legislature began Utah's state park system in 1957 by designating the Territorial Statehouse in Fillmore, This is The Place Monument in Salt Lake City and Camp Floyd west of Lehi as the original three parks in the system.
Now, the agency manages more than 40 state parks and museums as well as 95,000 acres of land and 1 million surface acres of water. It hosted nearly 4.5 million visitors in 2005.
In addition, Utah Parks and Recreation is charged with managing off-highway vehicle and boating programs, and it runs six golf courses and provides law enforcement and safety patrols around the state.
* TOM WHARTON can be reached at email@example.com or 801-257-8909.
To participate in Utah's program, log on to http://www.geocaching.com and type ''Utah State Parks'' in the search field. That will provide a list of longitude and latitude coordinates for geocaches at each of the park sites in Utah.