Clued In

Questing is so new to Northeast Ohio that I got blank stares when I said I was going. I'd say it's like a treasure hunt where you follow clues to a box. The response: "Oh, geocaching."

Geocaching uses GPS to find the hidden box, but questing is more down-to-earth. You follow rhyming clues to a box that contains a logbook and a custom-made stamp for those who keep a questing journal.

As many of the quests are written by teachers, it's great for kids. So I head out on my first one with three fifth-graders: my daughter, Carolina, and two of her friends.

We decide on the Sandy Rock quest, which goes through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Peninsula, and the Pondering Peninsula quest, which takes you around the charming town.

Perfect. Except that the spring day turns out to be cold and raining.

Still, we head to the Happy Days Lodge in Peninsula, the start of Sandy Rock, to meet up with CVNP interpretive and education specialist Arrye Rosser, who gives us questing's history. It started more than 150 years ago in England's Dartmoor National Park with a treasure hunt they call letterboxing. That park has about 10,000 authorized and thousands more unauthorized hidden letterboxes.

The idea crossed the pond in the mid-1990s when Steve Glazer created Valley Quest in Vermont, says Rosser, who attended a conference that featured Glazer.

"I heard his talk, and I was just blown away," she says. "I thought, I've just got to bring this back to Ohio."

Rosser got a grant, found regional partners, focused on the Ohio & Erie Canalway and launched a six-week pilot last fall. The first official season opened April 15 and runs until Nov. 15.

She hands us the clues (which you can print from the website beforehand), and the girls run between each one, anxious to beat one another in figuring it out. Each takes us deeper into the woods, and despite gray haze and biting wind, the lofty trees and towering rock ledges are spectacular.

The 75-minute quest turns into a couple of hours before the girls find the box. By that time, everyone's cold and hungry and has to go to the bathroom.

Re-energized after a meal, we continue to the easier and shorter Pondering Peninsula quest and learn the history of the village that dates to 1827. We stop in shops and enjoy meeting town potter Stephen Bures at Elements Gallery and Fire & Water Books •n' Bakery owner Jeff Milani, who tells us the history of the Peninsula python that allegedly escaped from a traveling circus in 1944.

I ache and am ready to be done. But the girls aren't. They find the box, easier this time, and love that the stamp is of a python.

"Can we do all 22?" Carolina asks.

"But in the summer," her friend Spencer adds.

Now that's an idea I could warm up to.

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