National & state parks welcome Pokemon Go players with warning

• link to live story •

Pokemon Go is taking the world by storm. But, one of the main concerns I’ve heard since the game made its debut is, “How much are people missing as they walk around with their eyes glued to their phones?”

That question is now taken to a whole new level as national and state parks become a hot spot for people looking to “catch them all.”

Arkansas State Parks said it is embracing Pokemon Go; numerous characters and Pokestops are popping up around the parks.

“We are very excited about greeting players who may not have visited a state park recently and encourage them to come on out and enjoy our beautiful outdoor spaces,” Arkansas State Parks Director Grady Spann said.

Sure, the game may be luring people who otherwise wouldn’t visit a park to get outside. But, will they actually see the park? Or will the number of people focused on their cell phones put a damper on the experience of those who genuinely want to experience the great outdoors?

While WiFi and cell phone signals can be a challenge to come by in many of our national parks, Pokemon Go players are still finding ways to play.

According to National Park Service, visitors have been using their phones to look for Pokemon creatures. While NPS welcomes gamers to explore the parks and learn about its 100-year history while earning pokeballs at Pokestops, players are encouraged to enjoy the parks with their eyes wide open.

“National parks are great places to see the best animals and learn the coolest stories. So while you’re chasing virtual monsters to add to your collection, take a look around at the beauty of these places. Breathe in the fresh air. Enjoy the history,” National Park Service 18th Director Jonathan Jarvis said. “Parks are amazing places to run, to play, to hike, to bike, to wonder, and to learn. Just make sure to keep your eyes open and stay safe. We don’t want you stumbling off the path or running into some of our real wildlife while you’re looking for the flying, swimming, and crawling creatures on your screen.”

• see full PSA from NPS 18th Director Jonathan Jarvis •

That brings me to my next question. Wouldn’t seeing a mama grizzly bear and her cubs in their natural environment beat capturing Pidgey for the 47th time? Those experiences are fleeting. With one blink or glance at your phone, you could miss the bald eagle that just flew overhead.

The majority of us are already distracted by text messages, social media networks, and email. How much of the world are we going to let pass us by before we look up and realize how much we missed while looking down at our phones?

Safety suggestions for playing Pokemon Go in state/national parks:

  • Before going to a park, check the park hours. Entering a park outside of those hours can constitute trespassing.
  • Please stay on marked trails and pathways while in the park. Walking off trail can be dangerous and can upset delicate ecosystems.
  • If your search takes you on trails, make sure to carry water and wear proper hiking shoes.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings. While looking at the screen on your electronic device, you may not be able to see uneven footing, “real” wildlife on the trail, other hikers, mountain bikers, equestrians, or other potential hazards near the trail.
  • Please be respectful of solemn areas of the park such as cemeteries, monuments, and museums.
  • Visitors come to the parks for many reasons. Please respect each other and don’t disturb others in the park.
  • While you’re visiting, take in the sights and sounds of your parks.
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