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'Letterboxers' find fun in the act of seeking - Minneapolis Star Tribune

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'Letterboxers' find fun in the act of seeking - Minneapolis Star Tribune
Apr 12th 2012, 02:32

"Dartmoor Dreamer" just found her 1,000th letterbox.

The North St. Paul hobbyist is an enthusiast of letterboxing, a Victorian-era hobby that involves a scavenger hunt for artful rubber stamps.

The objets d'art, many of them hand-carved, are typically protected inside a box, along with a visitor's logbook.

Tracking down the pieces, which end up in all kinds of places, from parks to coffee shops, means deciphering riddle-like clues that the creator might share on a website or elsewhere, said Dartmoor Dreamer, aka Karrie Blees.

When participants find a letterbox, they will ink the rubber stamp into their personal journals. They also leave their mark in the record that stays with the letterbox, which itself stays in place.

Part of the attraction of this unusual hobby, which has grown locally and nationally in recent years, Dartmoor Dreamer says, is the fact that it's open to anyone and can be done whenever, at little cost.

"It's what you make of it," she said, adding, "Every find is a treasure."

Dartmoor Dreamer, who works as a dressmaker, relishes the whole creative process. That includes developing a sort of secret identity and coming up with stamps and clever hiding spots and clues to go along with them.

She also loves being out in nature.

Letterboxing has taken her to parks in Roseville that she never knew about. She's also stumbled upon breathtaking views of the Mississippi River in Fridley. "I don't think I ever would've made time to do that otherwise," she said.

It was in Dartmoor, England, that Dartmoor Dreamer first tried out letterboxing a handful of years ago. There, letterboxing is a much more secretive affair than it is in the U.S. "You have to find clues by happenstance," she said, adding that the challenge made it all the more enjoyable.

Dartmoor is also where letterboxing originated in 1854. Only after a 1998 Smithsonian magazine story on the quirky hobby did it hop the pond, according to the Atlas Quest letterboxing website (www.atlasquest.com).

More recently, letterboxing has led to the high-tech geocaching, in which people try to find trinkets by using GPS coordinates, according to northeast Minneapolis resident Troy Rognrud (aka "Tricky Troy"), who's also an avid letterboxer.

However, considering that geocaching leads to digging things up more, "It's a little more destructive to the environment because you don't get an exact location" like you do in letterboxing, he said.

In coming up with locations for his letterboxes, Rognrud tries to "bring people to an interesting area, off the beaten path." For example, he has buried his creations at the Ax-Man Surplus store that's close to where he grew up in Fridley, at Kordiak Park's Snapper Bridge in Columbia Heights, and at Laddie Lake Community Park in Blaine, among other places.

In crafting hints for the letterbox searches -- which can be as quick as a so-called drive-by,or continue on for miles -- his style is pretty straightforward. "I want people to find them," he emphasized.

For Rognrud, part of the fun is sharing in the novelty of the artistry behind every "letterbox."

Some pictures are very detailed while others are more basic. Techniques vary quite a bit. After a while, "You start to know people by their stamps," not their names.

He's pleased that through the process, he's found a community of those who share a love of letterboxes.

Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.

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