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Pokemon GO‘s popularity is still rocketing skyward, and the National Park Service is coming along for the ride.
Since the game’s launch in early July, national park units across the country have reported a surge of smartphone-wielding visitors playing Pokemon GO, the location-based scavenger hunt that sends users on a quest for collectable Pokemon.
“In the last week, we’ve noticed visitors coming to national parks using their phones to look for elusive digital creatures,” NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis said in a Facebook video post.
Parks large and small reported the sudden rush, according to NPS spokeswoman Kathy Kupper, who says some lesser known sites have had as many as 400 visitors.
“The mood is to embrace [Pokemon GO],” Kupper said, noting that while the NPS cannot endorse the app, it hopes to use it to engage new, overwhelmingly young, visitors.
“This is an age group that we would love to have in the parks,” she said.
The craze comes as the NPS celebrates its centennial with a slate of programs aiming to increase visitation numbers, such as the Find Your Park initiative. Rangers at some parks are using the app as another tool to encourage more visitors.
This effort was on display at the National Mall, which has become a gamer-favorite for its wealth of in-app landmarks, called PokéStops. Rangers will soon begin leading guided Pokémon tours across the grounds. Kupper says that this integration method is already in practice at Pennsylvania’s Friendship Hill National Historic Site.
Rangers joined in the fun on Twitter, which by Thursday was inundated with photos of National Mall and Everglades rangers posing beside digitally superimposed monsters
But trainers aren’t welcome everywhere. The park service has cautioned visitors from pulling out the game at some, especially solemn, sites.
“Yes, it might be tempting to go after that Snorlax near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or the Venusaur hanging out in the chamber of the Jefferson Memorial, but remember that there are places of solemn reflection here at the National Mall where playing Pokémon just isn’t appropriate,” the unit noted in a Facebook post.
Individual parks may ask Niantic, the app maker, to geographically exclude their sites from gameplay. But for the time being, Kupper says that rangers are simply asking Pokémon GO users to exercise restraint.