Author’s note, this article does not necessarily reflect the views of the National Park Service or Fossil Butte National Monument. This is just my own personal opinion.
When I was a kid, I would bike to a nearby state park and walk through the woods in blissful delight. I would imagine myself walking through Viridian Woods, a fictional location in the Pokémon video games, and pretend I was catching forest Pokémon that lived in that forest such as Caterpies or Heracross. I would envision myself on a journey; to fight other trainers and travel across the land. This was only imagination but that never stopped me from hoping this might be true one day.
And now, Pokémon Go has given us that opportunity to get as close as we can to capture Pokémon in the real world. So many fans have responded positively to this App that its no wonder Nintendo’s shares have been soaring. There is a real sense of discovery, excitement, and wonder packaged in this app. And this app doesn’t take you to just localized areas in your city but across the country as well. To such places as the National Parks.
The National Park Service (NPS) is currently facing a rather perilous position on park visitation. On the one hand, such great and notable parks such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Grand Tetons are receiving too much love. The parks are super crowded and the park facilities are strained to their limit to deal with the massive amount of people that visit. On the other hand, some parks and monuments are facing too little visitation or simply aren’t viewed as parks as all. These parks go out of their way, whether it be social media, attending county fairs or visiting local communities, to connect to their local audience and attract those that live miles away. In my opinion, these are the parks that are on the forefront of innovation.
The NPS has had a history of adapting through perseverance. In the early 1900s, train companies would boast what national parks they go by, in the 1920s, roads were built and more eastern parks were established to attract a wider audience, in the 1960s, visitor centers and facilities were built to accommodate the large amount of visitors and in the modern age, parks are using social media to reach out in ways that would be impossible even 15 years ago. Our latest slogan, “Find Your Park,” encourages people from across the country to find nearby parks they should visit.
Now, who’s to say that the NPS shouldn’t use Pokémon Go or other geographic-depending apps?
Pokémon has had a surprising history of bringing people off the couch and together, even outside, since its birth. In fact, the main reason why Pokémon has yet to see a home console release is that the creators firmly believe it would devalue the branding (it is short for “Pocket Monsters” after all). Children would bring their Gameboys around and trade with each other. The DS generation got rid of cables and introduced global trading as well. It’s a very interactive game.
The Pokewalker was the best device that got people outside. The Pokewalker was compatible to Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver. You could transfer your Pokémon to this pedometer and walk around outside. Every step you took added another experience point to your Pokémon and as such, I would constantly find myself going that extra thousand steps to ensure my Pokémon would level up and get stronger. And now, people can do this not with the pedometer but with their phones! Hatching eggs and catching Pokémon is out there! They’re walking about ready to be caught! It’s exciting! And this is what the National Park Service should be capitalizing on.
Here’s the biggest reason why I think this could work.
At the National Park Service we sell such things as hiking medallions, pins, patches, and magnets. Each park, for the most part, have their own, unique, collectable items along with the iconic stamping stations. Visitors are incessant on acquiring these stamps and items. It’s sometimes one of the first things they do when they enter the visitor center. Two of the most common questions I answer are “Where’s the bathroom” and “Where’s the stamping station?” No other question even comes close to their popularity. The visitors desire to collect every stamp or item for each National Park they visit (sound familiar??).
And the best part? Sometimes, the stamp stations are the only reason why they come. And when they come they are surprised by what we have to offer. Beautiful fossils preserved almost to perfection. A whole ancient ecosystem of fishes, birds, early mammals, plants, and insects are at their beck and call. Leaves have their veins intact, fishes have their scales, and delicate feathers are still attached to their host. We are unusual, that’s why we are a national monument. That’s why we are here. That’s why you are stamping your station.
Pokémon Go has tapped into that same desire of Catching Them All. We get off our couches and computer chairs and go outside! It’s crazy! Every day I read so many fantastic things that are happening because of Pokémon Go. People are interacting with each other, discovering new places and walking so much their legs get sore. It’s fantastic!
And how do we combine these two? Well, this is the best part (and I’m surprised no one has thought of this yet to the best of my knowledge…)!
As of the writing of this article, we have 57 (counting the three in the upcoming games) Legendary Pokémon. And ALSO right now we have 58 national parks in the United States! That’s crazy! It’s like the stars aligned for us because what if we could find a legendary Pokémon for each of our national parks?
Think about it.
Our national parks are treasured for their uniqueness. There is nothing else like them in the world. As such we protect them to make sure they are preserved for future generations. Likewise, there is only one Legendary Pokémon (i.e., there can be multiple Pikachus but only one Mew). So what if you were to go to say Yellowstone and go through one of the trails and find Volcanion (which is essentially a geyser Pokémon). Or enjoy Denali and find Regice? How about Celebi at Great Smoky Mountains or Heatran at Hawai’i Volcanoes? If your desire to catch them all is that strong then visit us. And be amazed at what you have to find here.
The biggest downside to this though is that Pokémon Go could depreciate the value of parks and even outright insult them. People working at parks that are more scenic or scientifically inclined would likely not care as much about Pokémon Go visitors as those working at monuments that value an emotional event. I certainly cannot imagine a case where the NPS would embrace Pokémon Go at such sites as Flight 93, Battle of the Little Bighorn, or Boston African American National Historic Site and that’s fine. We don’t have to do that. It is a tricky subject and I’m certainly not the guy to try to resolve that situation.
But for those of you that believe that Pokémon Go will devalue the parks consider this. A passage from Interpreting our Heritage by Freeman Tilden, one of the greatest books about interpretation in the NPS. In chapter 2 Tilden writes
“A roster of the reasons why people visit parks, museums, historic houses, and similar preserves, though a fascinating excursion into human psychology, need not detain us here. All interpreters know from their experiences that the reasons are so many and diverse that merely to name them all would take pages of this book.
I go upon the assumption that whatever their reasons for coming, the visitors are there. What we should determine, then, if we aim at establishing our first principle of interpretation is: now that the visitor is here, in what will be his chief interest, and inevitably his chief interest, while he is with us?
The answer is: The visitor’s chief interest is in whatever touches his personality, his experience and his ideals.”
And from there, we must connect, our experiences, our ideas, emotions, feelings, and attitudes towards the visitor. Pokémon Go can act as a gateway to the NPS. They are here so perhaps we may find some connection with them on a personal level (why can you find an Articuno at Glacier?). And before you do so ask yourself, what is Pokémon all about? How can it be related to the NPS?
For me the two are similar in that they are a sense of discovery, exploration, social connection, and wonder. It harkens back to what I was saying earlier of my childhood. Walking through the forest and catching that caterpie. Now, I can do that for real.
And as for you. Will you Find Your Park today and decide to Catch Them All?
P.S. Check this video by the National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. That’s awesome!