A contest funded by Tourist Development Council monies has been vandalized.

The Salty Geocache Challenge, launched in Dec. 2011, is a recreational opportunity for outdoor enthusiasts visiting Franklin County.

Geocaching, which combines the terms "geographical" and "cache," is an outdoor adventure that sends seekers on a treasure hunt for containers of trinkets and prizes. Participants use a Global Positioning System receiver to hide and seek containers called "geocaches" or "caches." A typical cache is a waterproof container containing a logbook.

In 2011, Franklin County became one of the first localities in the nation to have a geocaching contest or challenge with a prize. The TDC provided funds to buy collectable geocoins inscribed with Eastpoint’s zip code as a prize for cachers who complete the challenge and to promote caching in the county. Cachers frequently locate caches in an area by plugging the zip code into a search engine.

Since that time, many other tourist areas have followed in the county’s footsteps.

In the Salty Challenge, numerical clues to the location of vouchers needed to collect a coin were hidden in some of the approximately 200 geocaches within the county. Once the voucher is obtained, it can be traded for the coin at either the Apalachicola Bay or Carrabelle chambers of commerce or the island visitor center.

Since its creation, more than 100 outdoor enthusiasts have visited to county to track down the clues that would win them one of 200 souvenir coins. Some have made multiple trips to complete the game and many have stayed overnight.

This Labor Day, a pair of cachers contacted the contest organizer to report some of the clues had been removed or defaced so that they were unusable.

Since the challenge was last completed on Aug. 2, the damage must have occurred sometime last month. Labels with clues were either removed entirely from cache containers or partly scraped away.

The visiting cachers, who had traveled from Jacksonville to complete the Salty Challenge, were able to finish their hunt and collect a coin but only after much hard work.

Caches in Apalachicola and on St. George Island were vandalized.

Who did it and why? We will probably never know, but the vandalism is typical of problems that have begun to arise for geocachers nationwide.

There have always been rare incidents of theft within the game, but this summer Groundspeak, the corporation that organizes geocaching, sued to have a website taken down that urged people to extort money from cache owners.

Muggled.net was a controversial website encouraging players to steal geocaches and hold them ransom. Muggled is the term geocachers use for a cache that has been removed or damaged by an unknown person. The jargon is borrowed from the popular Harry Potter stories where it refers to persons who do not possess magical powers.

Alabama resident Gerald Roman posted the Muggled.net webpage and a film on YouTube explaining geocaching and urging people to steal geocaches and demand $10 from the owner for their safe return.

He maintained that geocaches, once placed, were abandoned and belonged to nobody. Groundspeak disagreed and had set litigation in motion. But, in June, Roman voluntarily took down the website and the YouTube posting after he said he received threats to himself and his family.

He apologized for the extortion scheme but said he had only wanted to add a twist to the popular game, which is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world.

Franklin County’s Salty Challenge was temporarily taken offline until the damage could be repaired but is now up and running.

This is not the first instance of theft or vandalism of caches in Franklin County. There have been repeated thefts in Eastpoint over the last three years but the incidents appear to be unrelated.