Bellevue art students put a new spin on geocaching

by Molly Mullen for Seattle PI

When Larry the Loch Ness Monster was created by a Bellevue High School student, no one knew where he would end up. Through a game called "geocaching," the small papier-mache sculpture was photographed at different lakes around King County, just as the artist requested.

Art students from four Bellevue high schools have found an interesting way to work with the Bellevue Arts Commission on their latest community sculpture project. Each student created a miniature sculpture that's going on a "personal" journey through King County.

Geocaching is a sort of scavenger hunt for people who use global positioning coordinates listed at to find objects hidden throughout their cities. People find the objects and log the information on paper attached to each item.

The students got involved with a more specific aspect of the activity. Each student created a "travel bug."

Seth Leary, founding president of the Washington State Geocaching Association, helped introduce the students to the game and said travel bugs are objects with specific "dog tag" serial numbers on them. They can be stuffed animals, decks of cards, old toys – anything that wouldn't be missed if it didn't come back. When a geocacher finds one of the bugs, he takes it home, logs it in on the Internet and takes it to the next destination.

Unlike regular geocaches, which can be something as simple as a coffee can or as large as a water heater, the travel bugs are supposed to move from one location to another.

"Most travel bugs have a goal, like, ‘I want to get to the Indianapolis Speedway,' so it will eventually work its way over to Indiana, get its photo taken at the racetrack, and work its way back home," Leary said. "The process can take something like two years, but if they get back home, the owner can keep it on his desk, knowing all the places it went to."

Leary said it's fun to see where the objects will end up.

The Bellevue travel bugs are sitting at Bellevue City Hall, waiting to start their adventures to places such as Pike Place Market, the Space Needle or Alki Beach.

A travel bug titled "Sealife" was launched at the end of June by a Bellevue High School student and was photographed with the fish at the Seattle Aquarium before making its way back to City Hall.

Maddy Herreid, an eighth-grader at the International School, said she wants her travel bug to visit different gardens around the city.

"I made a carrot out of wire and papier-mache," Herreid said. "My family plants vegetables in a P-patch in the neighborhood, and carrots are my favorite."

Her teacher, Enid Smith Becker, decided to base the students' designs on the four elements, and Herreid chose earth.

"It was really fun, and I'm excited to see where my bug goes," she said.

Genevieve Tremblay, the Bellevue arts commissioner, conceptualized and spearheaded the project, translating geocaching and travel bugs into a sculpture exhibit.

The teen project is part of the larger 2008 Bellevue Sculpture Exhibition.

This year's theme was "green," so students from International School and Bellevue, Newport and Sammamish high schools, as well as teens from the Ground Zero Teen Center, made their travel bugs largely out of recycled materials.

Tremblay said stewardship and education were two important aspects, and when she was brainstorming ideas for the exhibit, she thought geocaching encompassed her mission.

"People are stewarding these objects through underground channels in the community," she said.

Tremblay started geocaching in 2006 and contacted Bellevue art teachers to get them involved in the project. Ceramics, stained glass, cast pewter and found objects were used to create the travel bugs.

Geocaching started in Portland in 2000, when GPS technology was really starting to take off. Now there are 11,000 geocaches in Washington state, and hundreds of thousands in the world.

"It's just a really exciting project," Tremblay said, "and a good way to introduce the community to something people may not have known was out there."

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