Local Entrepreneurs Hope to Increase Off-Season TourismGeocaching and Ghost Tours Planned for Spring
After the nation’s economic collapse in 2009, Mary Ann Gutchigian began investigating the web for a better way to rent her home on Long Beach Island during the off-season. In the midst of her search, she stumbled upon a website for geocaching, a worldwide, outdoor treasure-hunting game.
The game uses a handheld GPS-device to lead participants to a specific location, in search of a hidden canister called a geocache, which holds a unique object people can obtain and observe. It began in 2000 after GPS-enthusiast Dave Ulmer began testing the navigational accuracy of these systems, which had just been upgraded by the United States to include selective ability. The game instantly caught on and has become a fun, traveling adventure that has attracted more than four million people around the world. For many towns across the nation, geocaching has even become a source of economic growth, attracting adventure-seekers into local establishments.
Intrigued by the game’s benefits, Gutchigian believes that setting up a geocaching trail on the Island will improve the chances of her house and others’ being rented, as well as help the area’s economy during the shoulder season.
“Geocachers come in the off-season. They don’t like coming into an area that’s highly populated because they don’t want little kids misplacing the canisters,” said Gutchigian. “These people are die-hards. They’ll come out in blizzards and go kayaking, or scuba-diving in the ocean or the bay to find these caches. Then they’ll stop to get coffee at Wawa, eat at our restaurants, use our gas stations and increase revenue,” she explained.
Many people in the area have already stashed geocaches across the Island and on the mainland. By organizing a specific trail of caches, Gutchigian believes the game will help increase year-round tourism.
“If tourists are coming to the Island in the off-season for geocaching, and they’ve never been here before, once they walk the beaches and the bay and they see all the stores offering kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, Jet Skis and fishing and everything else, you better believe that they’re going to come back in the summertime, not to geocache, but to vacation with their family and friends,” she said.
Many local institutions are behind Gutchigian’s theory, including the Long Beach Island Business Alliance, Bay Village, Nardi’s, The Haymarket, A Little Bite of Italy and the Southern Ocean County Chamber of Commerce. Many believe the LBI Geocache Trail will be most effective when planned around the Island’s biggest affairs, such as Chowderfest.
“It’s a worldwide competition for people of all ages, and if people get their family and friends together, it can be a great way for everyone to learn about this amazing environment we have here (on LBI),” Gutchigian explained.
“There are tons and tons of things to do around here, but you can’t do it in the summertime; it’s insane. If you come in the off-season, it’s nice and slow-paced. You have the road to yourself, the stores are still open, the restaurants are open and you can just take your time and do whatever you want,” she added.
Meanwhile, local Ship Bottom resident Maggie O’Neill, affectionately known as the “ghost girl of LBI,” hopes her idea for a ghost story driving tour will also help the area’s off-season tourism. The haunting excursion is a spinoff of her “Into the Mystic Legend and Ghost Tours,” a walking tour that has taken place in downtown Beach Haven every summer since 2008.
With the help of the Long Beach Island Museum, O’Neill said she has been able to maintain the eccentric walking tour as many excited tourists have been apt to join. Now looking to expand the circuit by including a road tour, navigated through CD, she said she hopes to incorporate 12 to 15 different ghost stories that have occurred on the Island, anywhere from Holgate to Barnegat Light.
“I think it’s going to be terrific in the off-season. I think it’s a wonderful thing to be able to do,” said O’Neill. “People can come from all over and spend the day driving to the different, mysterious spots on LBI. If businesses have a mysterious story, much like on my walking tours, and they’re on the CD, it’s a terrific advertisement,” she added.
The driving tours will also make for a great escape from the colder fall and winter weather, as well as the more humid spring and summer climate, as participants can stay in their cars.
“The weather is not as much of a factor during a driving tour as it is with the walking tours,” O’Neill stated. “If it’s a rainy day, it’s a great thing to do. You can just hop in the car and drive to the different places.
“The traffic is not half as bad during the week, especially during the off-season, and because you buy the CD you can go anytime you want,” she explained.
The tour is expected to last about two hours, when factoring in actual driving time. O’Neill believes participants will be interested in getting out of their cars to check out the area cited on the CD, especially at shops and restaurants where they might be interested in purchasing a souvenir, or sitting down for a meal.
So far, O’Neill has collected four ghost stories from areas across the Island, including Barnegat Light, Ship Bottom and Long Beach Township. The tales take place in all different spots, from commercial businesses to residential properties. One story even takes place on the beach.
It's a fun project, and I think it would be a great thing to do,” she said. “Many years ago back in the early ’80s, before I moved here permanently, I rented for a week (on LBI). It was a rainy week, and I got ahold of the book (Legends of Long Beach Island: Stirring Tales of Ghosts, Haunted Houses, Pirates and Much More) by Charles Adams and went to all the haunted spots. So I always remember how much fun it was, and from that moment on I knew I always wanted to do something like this,” she added.
Both Gutchigian and O’Neill hope to have their tours up and running this spring. If you wish to contact O’Neill about a ghost story on LBI, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate to the LBI Geocache Trail, e-mail email@example.com. For more information about geocaching, visit geocaching.com.
— Kelley Anne Essinger