A century old hobby combining history, puzzle-solving, navigating, scavenger hunting, natural scenery, musicians and TV journalists is all part of the fun.
When the term letterboxing was first brought to my attention I thought it was a sport involving jabs, gloves, a referee, and a boxing ring. To my surprise I found out that letterboxing is a fast growing and intriguing hobby among hikers and nature enthusiasts. It started over one hundred and fifty years ago in Dartmoor, England and was introduced in North America by a 1998 article published in Smithsonian Magazine. The article sparked an interest and a group called Letterboxing North America (LBNA) was created. It is an activity passed on by word of mouth and growing in popularity.
To play the game someone hides a waterproof container in a natural setting. It could be a park, recreation area, historic area or anyplace accessible to the public. Inside the container is a log book and rubber stamp with an ink pad, a letter explaining what letterboxing is about, and other goodies. They then write clues or riddles to the location of the box and post them on the LBNA web site at www.letterboxing.org. The hider can write the clues in cryptic or clear-cut and may put in compass points and landmarks.
Letterboxers, or ‘boxers’ as they refer to themselves, set out to find the hidden boxes with the clues in hand. Also in their possession should be a compass, maps, pen or pencil, logbook, and a personal rubber stamp with an inkpad. Once the letterbox is found, they then stamp the logbook inside the box with their personal stamp and then stamps their personal logbook with the stamp found within the box. This keeps a record of anyone who found the box. The hider will occasionally go back to the box to replace the logbook when it fills up or just to check on it and make sure it’s still there. The rules are simple: Rewrap the log and the box exactly the way you found it or better and replace it in the same hiding spot.
Sound like fun? Most letterboxers will tell you it’s addictive. The LBNA web site shows clues to box locations all over the world. During a one week vacation in August I had a planned trip to Philadelphia. I found myself browsing the list of clues from the LBNA site for Tyler State Park. Some clues told stories and others had themes. This just adds to the fun. There was the battle of the bands featuring The Beatles and other bands, Elvis themed clues, clues depicting landmarks and history and one that I found of interest: Anderson Cooper is hidden in Tyler State Park. The clue located at http://www.atlasquest.com/lboxes/clue/index.html?gBoxId=20249 depicts a story of CNN’s famous anchorman losing his way in the park and the hiker must locate him. There are dozens of letterboxes camouflaged and well hidden in Tyler State park which is located in Bucks County, PA, a suburb north of Philadelphia. So I gathered my equipment and clues and headed South on I-95 to Newtown, PA.
My hike began at the Boat House parking lot which is a few minutes from the Newtown Rd entrance. I crossed the bridge and found the narrow dirt path titled Nature Trail Start. This quiet path is not far from the crowded paved trail and offers some of nature’s finest landscape.
I followed the third clue through the crunching and crackling leaves and branches. The peaceful sound of the birds whistling blended in with the trickling of water over the rocks in the small creek. After passing by a few big boulders and many fallen trees, I found the wooden bridge which offered picture perfect views of the creek.
Once across the bridge, the log steps were in place and helped with the steep upward incline. The large downed tree was easily noticeable but not as easy to get to. Good hiking shoes and a steady balance is a necessity to reach the tree that was laying on a downward slant.
The tree was huge and with a stick I poked around the roots only to find nothing. On the side facing the log steps, there was an open cavity and there lying inside was the plastic bag filled with a waterproof container, not well camouflaged but hidden from public view. Inside I found several items one of which was the log book with an Anderson Cooper photo.
Letterboxing is an exciting and enjoyable activity. The letterboxer should have an understanding of the areas terrain, plant life and hazards before setting out for the hunt. Being able to identify poison ivy and other poisonous plants along with a good insect repellent will save you from scratching later on. Always respect the wildlife and never disturb nature is the rule of thumb.
Letterboxing is evolving and a high-tech variation called Geocaching is rapidly emerging. Geocaching utilizes a portable Global Positioning System (GPS) to seek out containers filled with inexpensive trinkets and a logbook. In addition to clues, Geocachers use GPS coordinates to find containers. When found they will take a trinket out of the box and put another trinket of equal value inside before re-wrapping and replacing the box. Portable GPS’s can be pricey and for those on a budget, letterboxing is a fun and educational hobby for individuals, couples and families.