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Catch 'em all — just not at Winona's Veterans Memorial Park; city proposal would limit Pokémon Go, other activity

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Veterans Memorial Park

Veterans Memorial Park in Winona. The Winona City Council will consider changes to an ordinance Monday that would limit activities at the park, many of which associated with the popular mobile phone game Pokemon Go, which has brought players in droves to the park.

Some Winona residents are hoping that Veterans Memorial Park will be a Pokémon no-Go after Monday’s City Council meeting.

A proposed ordinance coming before the council would add some cut-and-dry restrictions on what is allowed in that particular area of the Lake Park recreation area, and would encompass the activities the popular smartphone game produces.

The ordinance would cover a wide array of activities, not all related to increased traffic from Pokémon players, and some which is already prohibited.

Obvious restrictions would include littering, disorderly conduct or driving through the park off of designated roads.

More closely related to concerns over the recent crowds that suddenly began gathering at all hours earlier this month when the game was released include prohibitions on hammocks and tents, sleeping and sunbathing, recreational activities and games (electronic or not), having pets in the area and playing music.

Some of the broader restrictions would include picketing and demonstrating, speeches or oration to assemblies, and displaying flags or placards.

The exception to many of these rules would be if they were part of a designated military memorial ceremony, or expressly authorized by the city.

The ordinance would make it a misdemeanor to violate the rules if it is passed.

Council member Gerry Krage, a military veteran who has been bothered by the players’ presence at the park since they started showing up in droves, said the use of the space to play the game is unnecessary and disrespectful, and that he has had support from a number of people who helped craft the proposed ordinance.

“It was a collective effort,” Krage said. “City staff has been getting complaints.”

The memorial structures and statues have not not harmed, but Krage said litter, loitering and other side effects of high traffic are creating concerns.

“The grass itself is in horrible, horrible condition at this point,” Krage said.

The ordinance refers to the park as a shrine, and maintains that as a result, recreational activities that are appropriate elsewhere in Lake Park should be restricted there.

People are gathering at the location because the game has designated it as an area, known as a gym, where users can play against each other. The game, unlike most passive mobile video games, uses a smartphone’s GPS to guide players to specific locations.

The game has caused similar consternation in other solemn areas, including Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.

Part of the reason the proposal is coming before the Winona council is because while city code already addresses several of the behaviors, it doesn’t specifically refer to uses of Veterans Memorial Park.

Krage noted that now is the time for the city to consider the issue, given that the popularity of Pokémon Go likely means that GPS-based virtual reality games will only become more popular.

“Games of this nature are going to be around for a long time,” Krage said. “There’s a good chance that this area will come back again and again.”

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