If finding flags hidden in the woods or floating along the river sounds like fun, you'll probably have a blast at orienteering.

It's a hobby that's part-skill and part-scavenger, with plenty of adventure. It involves using just a compass to locate flags (or "controls") highlighted on a map, says John Pekarik, of Sayville, president of the Long Island Orienteering Club.

 

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HOW IT WORKS

Enthusiasts organize orienteering meets, usually in public parks, setting up courses that participants will race to finish first. Typically, you begin with a punch card, which gets hole- punched at each flag, until you complete your card as quickly as you can, says Pekarik, 74, who retired from the advertising field a decade ago.

A beginner's course might be a mile-and-a-half long, with flags placed in plain sight. More advanced courses might involve controls hidden in the woods, requiring a bit of bushwhacking to locate.

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"We position ourselves as a recreational club," Pekarik says, with members including families, scouts and seniors. "And we do have competitive people in the club as well."

EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE

One competitor, David Lloyd of Westbury, is an avid hiker and backpacker.

"If you do it as a race, it's physically demanding and it's also mentally demanding," says Lloyd, 73, a chemistry professor. "You're running, and so your body and your mind get tired, but you have to keep focusing on the map in order to do it, so it's a challenging sport."

When he's in a mellower mood, Lloyd ventures out with his wife and friends for a more social orienteering experience. "You're essentially taking a walk in the woods but with some goal."

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Glen Malings, a 56-year-old accountant from Syosset, has organized mountain-bike orienteering events for the club in Stillwell Woods Park in Woodbury and canoe/kayak meets on the Nissequogue River that used spray-painted gallon juice containers tied to branches as controls.

"Orienteering is known as the thinking-man's sport," Malings says. "It's both physical and mental."

For Marilyn MacGown, 58, a paralegal, orienteering is hiking with a purpose.

"It's a social thing, too," said the Hicksville resident. "I'm always up for a challenge, especially with the outdoors. It's a good reason to be outside and enjoy the weather, the parks and a walk in the woods."

Other than a compass, map and an innate sense of direction, no extraneous navigational devices are allowed at orienteering meets. But to first find the parks, go right ahead: Get out the GPS.

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Long Island Orienteering Club

NEXT MEET June 14 at Muttontown Preserve Equestrian Area on Route 106, Muttontown. Registration 11 a.m.- 1 p.m. with the course open until 3:30.

INFO 631-567-5063, liorienteering.com

COST $10

Beginners orienteering workshop

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WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-1 p.m. June 14. Check-in at gatehouse at Sands Point Preserve, 127 Middle Neck Rd., Port Washington. Register via email to info@friendsspp.org

INFO 516-571-7900

COST $15 per car includes compass.