Geocacher David Baumchen is ready.
The free event attracts thousands of individuals and families who scour the local parks and businesses in search of plastic "clue balls" that can be redeemed for hand-blown glass balls. The works of art look much like the green Japanese fishing net floats that once washed up on Washington's ocean beaches, except the glass is much more colorful and is blown by Stanwood artist Mark Ellinger.
"This treasure hunt is a natural for geocachers," Baumchen said. "The Glass Quest is right up their alley. They love this event."
The Glass Quest runs daily through Feb. 26. Organizer Doris Platis promises that clues can be found each day throughout the area, with more than 300 glass balls to be given away during the event.
Baumchen, 66, of Camano Island, got hooked on geocaching in 2005 when he was battling cancer and wanted to keep busy.
"I'm an all or nothing kind of guy," said Baumchen, a retired antiques dealer who has since collected about 23,000 caches. With his treasure-hunting skills, he also has advised Glass Quest officials about how to hide the clue balls.
In February 2010, Baumchen found his first Glass Quest clue ball hanging from a tree in Freedom Park on Camano Island.
"I told Doris the clues had to be a little more difficult to find, not low-hanging fruit," he said. "People sit in their cars and watch for the clue balls to be hidden."
Earlier this week, Baumchen hosted a pre-quest workshop for more than 230 geocachers interested in participating in the Glass Quest. Geocachers won't be using GPS to find the clue balls, but they know how to look among twigs, moss and rocks or in fruit bowls or to see if the clues are attached to walls in local shops, he said.
"You have to have a good eye, but just stay on the trail in the parks," Baumchen said. "I assure you they aren't hidden in fragile native plants."
The Great Northwest Glass Quest began in 2010 when Stanwood and Camano shop owners decided they would try to attract some of the people headed north to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.
It worked well. Business owners like to tell their stories of increased business during the Glass Quest and of new loyal customers who now visit their shops throughout the year, said Platis, who owns the Seagrass Gallery on Camano.
Baumchen agrees that the "host-it-and-they-will-come" premise is correct. He found himself spending $150 in a Stanwood shop where he was looking for a clue ball last year.
Officials guess that twice as many people showed up for the treasure hunt this past year than did in 2010. Thousands of visitors from nearly 80 cities in the region took part in the family-friendly, free Glass Quest, event spokeswoman Ellen Hiatt said.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here's how to join the hunt
Drive to Stanwood and look for the signs in the windows of participating businesses. There you can pick up a map and guidebook to help you in your quest.
If you find a clue ball, read the directions inside and return the plastic clue ball for a ball made of colorful art glass. For free.
More information about the Great Northwest Glass Quest is available by calling the Stanwood Chamber of Commerce at 360-629-0562 or the Camano Island Chamber of Commerce at 360-629-7136. Or go to the event website, www.thegreatnwglassquest.com.
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