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‘Quests’ send hikers around Groton in search of clues

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GROTON — For Mark Gerath and his family, the Hanson Playground behind the library is the starting point for their expedition into the town’s past. From there, they head up the hill toward Route 119 and turn left toward “the center of the shire,” Gerath says.

There, they find the First Parish Church of Groton, or “the old meeting place of Hobbits and men” as he puts it. In front of the building is a memorial stone for the men who fought for the country’s independence.

And in less than two hours, they’ll have walked 2.5 miles around the town center and its outskirts and will have learned everything from a 1676 Indian attack that burned down all but four houses in town to a Navy hero killed in World War II.

Now, you will get to experience the excitement of discovering all the information and the scenic beauty of the town by walking with clues provided by Gerath and his wife, Sheila Julien. It’s an experience called “questing.” Gerath and Julien recently created four “quests,” or walking routes, for the town of Groton.

Questing works just like a scavenger hunt. You lead your way by decoding provided hints. Instead of treasures, people would typically find a stamp and a stamp pad at the end of a quest in a “letterbox,” which can be a birdhouse, plastic box or a Zip-lock bag in a tree cavity, according to the Groton Trails Committee.

Questing works just like a scavenger hunt. You lead your way by decoding provided hints. Instead of treasures, people would typically find a stamp and a stamp pad at the end of a quest in a “letterbox,” which can be a birdhouse, plastic box or a Zip-lock bag in a tree cavity, according to the Groton Trails Committee.

Most of Gerath’s quests are designed for both adults and children. You can pick up copies of the descriptions and navigation clues for each trail from a binder in the children’s section at the Groton Public Library. Gerath, an environmental engineer, and Julien are hiking enthusiasts who have enjoyed walking on local trails since they moved six years ago to Groton, which is known for large tracts of preserved open space.

They found a book about questing at the library more than two years ago and found out there are several hundred quests around the country. They thought Groton would be an ideal place for that, Gerath said.

The couple and their 14-year-old son picked their favorite walking routes. Quest No. 1, which includes Main Street and Farmers Row, is a scenic walking route while No. 2 involves hiking trails on and around Gibbet Hill.

They also created a “letter quest,” consisting of clues that have some words left blank. To fill the blanks, you have to find the letters hidden around the library and the playground behind it. When you put all the letters together, you will have a book title and will find out where it is by typing it into the library catalog.

Many of the questing clues sound vague but make good sense when you are looking at the scenery and the buildings, Gerath said. The Gerath family presented their quests to the Trails Committee, which spread the word about it through the town Web site.

Trails Committee member Stephen Legge said the committee was interested in the quests because walkers can take advantage of all the work on the trails the group has done.

Gerath hopes the quests give local residents a reason to get outside and walk around the town. He also hopes it will encourage others to build their own quests and share them with the public.

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