It was real world treasure hunting that drew competitors from as far away as Anchorage to the Annual Geocache competition at the 15th Anniversary Celebration of the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska (CLCA) in Kenai. “Geocaching is a worldwide game and there even use to be a cache on the International Space Station. Locally we do Geocaching in the raw with 12 caches to be found and 6 challenges that all have to be solved using science, technology, engineering and math, STEM education to get to the next cache,” explained Spring Larrow, the CLCA geocache guru who along with Dawn the CLCA geocache-genius who this year stepped up her game with some very devious cache’s that were difficult to find according to participants. Eight teams with four members each took to the highways, byways, woods and trails in this year’s event all wearing identifying Geocache T-shirts that let pubic know they were on a mission and not running from the law.

Winning this year’s devious geocache competition was an Anchorage team, repeat winners known as the 3-Cacheateers + 1, followed closely by a superkalafragilistic Soldotna team from The Packaging Store called the “Boxpialidocious.” And placing third the electrifying Team HEA. “Geocaching is not only fun but very productive in learning cooperation and listening to each other. Our team was made of members from different HEA departments and we needed the team factor of working together, listening to each other’s ideas, compromise and pursue what we needed to find,” said HEA team leader Kathy Heindel, “We’ll be back next year and go for the gold,” she said.

The evening event also included a night of challenges for all who bought a banquet ticket for the “fun” raiser. Typical CLCA 3rd grade level activities required focus and concentration among the well-attended event. Donor’s explored STEM science and team work before, during and after the delicious banquet. The evening also included a 15 year walk down the CLCA memory lane by former Kenai Mayor John Williams, who first conceived of a CLCA in Kenai, and the first executive director Bill Popp who returned to his hometown with his wife Nicole. A video greeting from SoHi grad Tess Caswell now a PhD candidate in the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University, brought the whole CLCA mission and the efforts of its supporters in focus. She told how she was captivated by space exploration at age 10, when her 5th grade teacher at K-Beach Elementary took them on a CLCA mission and covered an entire wall of the classroom with a poster of the Space Shuttle orbiting Earth. Tess told how she went on to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she managed a sounding rocket mission and flew twice aboard NASA’s Reduced Gravity Aircraft. After graduating from UAF she accepted a job in Mission Control for the International Space Station as an Environmental and Thermal Systems Operator. Her experiences facilitating science aboard the ISS motivated her to explore the scientific side of space flight, and after three years in Mission Control she returned to school to study planetary geology. At Brown, Tess performs experiments on ice to investigate how tides heat the deep interiors of icy moons in the Outer Solar System. She hopes to one day fly in space herself, continuing the adventure that began at the CLCA years ago and brought into reality the vision of John Williams, Sen. Ted Stevens and many others whose tireless support brought the CLCA into reality and give inspiration to Alaskan youth like Tess Casewell. 15th CLCA Anniversary sponsors included ConocoPhillips, BP, CPH and Shell. Tesoro Vice President Kenai Refinery Cameron took the occasion to present CLCA with a big check for $46,100.00 to fund a new simulator probe at CLCA and missions for kids in the coming year.