POWELL — Isolated in Powell, Corey Zeilmann wanted to get his family outdoors for some fun and exercise while practicing social distancing. When the family of four found a hidden treasure close to some ancient rock carvings outside of Cody, the hunt was on.
“I didn’t know there were petroglyphs anywhere near Cody,” he said while wrangling a large trunk from the back of the family SUV.
“It took us all day to find it,” he said.
Since then, Zeilmann has been taking his family to several locations, looking for treasure and learning about Park County’s history.
The first treasure they found was hidden by Cody’s Joe Kondelis, who was off work while “self-quarantining” and looking for a fun outdoor activity.
“I’d been reading on social media about everyone freaking out, stuck in their house and everyone was kind of going stir crazy,” Kondelis said. “I thought, there’s so many cool things out there. I was like, ‘I’m just going to do a treasure hunt.’”
He thought maybe a few of his close friends might “jump in” for some fun, so he started a Facebook group called the COVID-19 Treasure Hunt on March 22.
At first he hid some cash and hard-to-find household supplies — making sure to sanitize everything properly for good, clean fun.
“I kind of wanted people to get some money to spend around town at the local businesses in Cody and Powell,” Kondelis said.
Within days of hiding the first treasure, hundreds had joined his group and started hiding their own treasures across the Big Horn Basin. There are now more than 700 members.
“It has kind of taken on a life of its own,” Kondelis said of the group. “I’ve only hid one other treasure. Now there’s one or two hunts a day. People are really jumping on board.”
When the Zeilmann and Lydic family found Kondelis’ treasure, which included $250 in bills graced by the face of Ulysses S. Grant, they took one of the bills and left the rest hidden for others to find. Another lucky treasure hunter took some of the cash and promptly headed to Libations, a liquor store in Cody.
While there they mentioned Kondelis’ hunt had funded their shopping trip to the drive-thru lane of the store.
Juli Hinze, managing owner of the store, was working the window — and she happens to be Kondelis’ neighbor. Hinze loved the idea and offered prizes to help continue the hunt.
“I think this is such a cool idea,” Hinze said. “I told him [Kondelis] ‘good job’ for thinking of a way to get people out and offered to donate some gift cards.”
As the hunts became more popular, other businesses began to get involved. The prizes were hidden in places that would force people to learn something about the history and the natural wonders of the Basin.
“I thought, if people would come out and see this, they’d be really appreciative,” Kondelis said. “Even if they don’t get the treasure, they’d find the petroglyphs south of Cody that took me forever to find. I’m like, maybe some people will come out and see some spots they’d never seen before and have some fun while doing it.”
It was just what Zeilmann and his family needed.
When nonessential businesses started to shut due to COVID-19 concerns, Zeilmann lost his new job as a cook at a Powell restaurant. He’s worried about his family’s future, but decided to take the time to develop stronger family bonds rather than giving in to anxiety.
“I’ve been busier since being laid off doing stuff with the kids,” he said. “We treasure hunt almost every day, we built a new fence in our front yard and had more family time to do things. It’s been great.”
The family wanted to share the fun, but knew many didn’t have the ability to get out of town for a long hike.
“What about little kids? What about families in Powell that might not have cars or time to drive all over?” Zeilmann said. “So we decided to make one for inside the city limits.”
They collected an entire treasure chest of goodies — some of which was donated by area businesses — left clues online and sat back to watch the fun. Many others did the same.
“It gets people outside, but at the same time they will be safe in doing it as far as keeping our distance from others,” said Alyssa Lydic, Zeilmann’s partner. “We can still be active, but safe.”
Safety is important to Kondelis. Not only did he sanitize his treasure, he also wants to make sure he’s not putting people in jeopardy out on the landscape.
“I thought about putting one on the west side of Cody,” he said, “but as we’re getting into grizzly bear season, I was like, I don’t want people walking around without bear spray.”