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Pokemon Go and Milwaukee County Parks are currently in a digital turf war. (PHOTO: Pokemon Go Facebook)

Pokemon Go (somewhere else): County Parks gets in turf war with viral game

Batman versus Superman. Captain America versus Iron Man. Kimye versus Taylor Swift. "Suicide Squad" versus the audience's senses. The year 2016 has seen some powerful, earth-shattering tiffs in just its short eight months, and now Milwaukee has a pop cultural beef of its own to hang in the butcher shop window.

Pokemon Go versus the Milwaukee County Parks Department (cue the ominous tumbleweed rolling between the two clashing titans).

A letter – dated to Aug. 16 – from Milwaukee Parks to Niantic, the company behind the Pokemon Go phenomenon, has made the rounds on Reddit, social media and eventually Milwaukee Record. In the letter, the Parks department applauds Pokemon Go's positive impact, but goes on to list off several "unanticipated and negative consequences" of the game on Lake Park.

The bottom line of the email: If Pokemon Go wants to be in Lake Park – or any Milwaukee County park – they have to ask permission and get a permit.

Since the mobile game's release earlier this summer, Pokemon Go has brought players of all ages out gallivanting into the daylight in the hopes of catching 'em all – with Lake Park serving as a particular hot bed of activity here in Milwaukee. One would think this to be a win-win for everyone involved – players have a lovely outdoors haven to catch Pokemon and mingle with others; County Parks gets crowds of people, young and old, to one of its attractions (staring at their phones rather than the flora, but hey, visitors are visitors). The email would appear to show that Milwaukee County thinks otherwise.

"It's pretty disappointing," said Daniel Aro, a 22-year-old Milwaukee Pokemon Go user who regularly goes to Lake Park to play, "and I just kind of feel like there's better issues to be tackled right now than people going to a park. Maybe the residents don't like it as much, but I think it's still a very positive thing. There's a lot of people going out there that are experiencing a social phenomenon. Every time I'm down there, there's a very good mix of people, and everyone's getting along and it's happy and positive. It seems off to me that they want to stop that."

The Pokemon Go-ing crowd online seemed equally as disappointed:

Of course, the County has different feelings. Attached to a Parks email making its way around social media is another email from Cheryl Wankowski, legislative assistant for Supervisors (James "Luigi") Schmitt and (Sheldon) Wasserman, citing several statistics they requested from law enforcement:

"MPD – 40 traffic tickets written, vendors only advised to leave

"Sheriff's Department – 102 citations written, 50% for curfew and the rest for alcohol, dogs in park & mics.

"MC Parks Rangers – 289 violations written"

"It really generated from the neighbors at the park, what they were observing in terms of traffic congestion, parking issues, littering, some turf damage," Parks Director John Dargle, Jr. told OnMilwaukee.

"Through that, I think that it warranted us to at least try to make contact in a cooperative way with Niantic to say, 'Hey, we want to share in the success of it, and this is what's happening to one of our parks, and we'd really appreciate a better understanding of where these hot spots or Pokemon stops are.'"

Dargle did additionally praise the game for bringing "unprecedented levels of social interaction" to Milwaukee and its parks. And while there's no formal statement currently from County Executive Chris Abele, his office did pass along a general message to constituents, joining in the praise of the game, as well as clarifying the goals of the original Niantic email.

"We are not asking for Niantic to remove Pokémon Go sites from Milwaukee County Parks," according to the statement. "Instead, we are hoping to partner with them and share the cost of increased parks maintenance the County is facing since the debut of the game.

"We understand the concerns shared by many neighbors of our County Parks. We ask that all visitors to our parks be respectful of the neighbors – this includes abiding parking restrictions, being mindful of litter and complying with park hours of operation."

Still, for many Milwaukee Pokemon Go players, it's a disappointing step too far.

"There's been a lot of times where people stay at the park after hours ... but it seems like kind of a knee-jerk reaction to all of the bad things, and they're not recognizing all of the good things that have come from this game," said 24-year-old Pokemon Go player Ryan Penkal.

"People are out getting active and exploring Milwaukee and their communities, meeting people they've never met before. Yeah, there's going to be people who do dumb things, but more good has come of this than bad."

So where do things (Pokemon) go from here?

According to Dargle, there's still been no response from Niantic to the original email.

"We'll keep trying to communicate and make contact with them," Dargle said. "Again, we're not asking Niantic to remove Pokemon from Milwaukee Parks; we're asking them to sort of take this opportunity to partner with us on this success."

There is also a meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at the Marcia Coles Community Room to discuss the Pokemon Go phenomenon and the current Pokemon v Parks: Dawn of Jigglypuff dust-up. It should be entertaining.

A part of me wonders if Milwaukee County Parks ever truly expects Niantic to respond – or if it ever expected a response in the first place. Perhaps this was simply a public gesture to disgruntled park neighbors to acknowledge that complaints were logged and "action" is taking place.

After all, Niantic is currently rolling out a literally globe-spanning product that causes literal stampedes elsewhere in the world. One can safely assume it might have other concerns on than forming park partnerships and, as the original email asks, helping with patrolling the grounds and possibly cleaning up after players.

Even if this all was just an act of goodwill for Poke-hating locals, however, this digital turf war feels a whole lot like getting in the way of a good thing.


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