GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Somewhere in metro Grand Rapids, "X" marked the spot where $5,000 was hidden. Tuesday morning, a local man found the money, ending the inaugural "Metro Area Treasure Hunts."
More than 300 people registered online and participated in the treasure hunt, which began in September. At registration, people paid a fee of $19.99 which bought them all 16 clues they would need for the hunt.
"It was hard to gauge how challenging to make the clues with this being the first ever treasure hunt," said Brian, the organizer of the event, who wishes to remain anonymous. "I wanted to make it challenging enough that it was fun, and that it wasn't found right away, but no so challenging that people lost interest and gave up."
Grand Rapids native, Chris Tonger was one of the participants who decided he wasn't going to be the ones who gave up.
"I became interested when I heard about it because I like puzzles," said Tonger, who stumbled across the treasure Tuesday morning in the southwest corner of Oak Hill Cemetery, which is off Hall St. in Grand Rapids. "I definitely knew I was in the right area because I saw a bunch of footprints in the snow, and that led me to believe other treasure hunters were looking in the same area."
Tonger said he showed up early Tuesday morning and continued his search. It didn't take long before he found the $5,000 prize.
"I looked through the entire area, along the fence, under bushes and all around gravestones," said Tonger. "I eventually started looking through a small tree, and saw what appeared to be a tube that was attached to the trunk of the tree.
"I thought it was a piece of garbage at first, but once I reached in and pulled it away from the tree, I realized it was something else."
Tonger says he opened up the tube and inside was a green, laminated certificate saying that he had found the $5,000 treasure.
"I got a notification email on the website Tuesday morning that somebody had entered a code, and when I checked it, it was the correct code," said Brian. "I then knew that someone had actually found the certificate that was hidden for the past three months."
Tonger says he's been borderline obsessed with trying to find the treasure, spending a lot of time on Google Maps, hoping to quickly connect the clues.
"I'm almost disappointed now that it's over because I don't know what I'm going to do with myself," Tonger joked.
Now that the first treasure hunt is history, Brian says he's planning to host another one, possibly as early as spring 2017.
"Next time there will be a couple modifications," said Brian. "Maybe it won't be as challenging so that we don't have to keep giving hints.
"I think we'll put some real-life, physical landmarks as part of the clues so that participants know they're on the right track.
"I'm also hoping to secure a sponsor for the next hunt so we can increase the amount of the treasure."
Tonger is $5,000 richer today, but says he has no idea what he plans to do with the money as of yet.
"I'll probably share it with a few people who helped me hunt for the treasure along the way," said Tonger. "Christmas is in a few days, so this windfall will certainly help with that."
Brian hopes the Metro Area Treasure Hunts will continue annually in Grand Rapids.
"The word is out that this is legit," said Brian. "There's $5,000 being handed out today, so hopefully this will continue to grow."
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