WINONA, Minn. (WCCO) — Ever since the release of the wildly popular “Pokemon Go” game, a city park in Winona has been crawling with players.
But it’s not just any park, it’s a place to honor the sacrifices of the nation’s veterans.
Now, some say all the foot traffic is causing damage to the grass and disrespecting the very meaning of the park. A confrontation between vets and gamers could cause the city to ban much more than games.
It’s a small plot of grass and granite that’s caught in a big controversy between reverence for our war dead and the right to play in public places.
“All of a sudden, boom, there’s all these people, it becomes a central gathering point,” said Winona Mayor Mark Peterson.
Caught up in the hysteria of “Pokemon Go,” an augmented reality game that places digital characters in real places.
“Clean, quiet most of the time unless you get someone that’s driving by yelling at us,” Nick Hanson said.
Hanson is among the countless people attracted to Veteran’s Park to capture Pokemon.
“Each Pokestop on the game, you click on it, it describes exactly what the monument is and what it’s for, so it’s incorporated in the game as well,” Hanson said.
But last week, a veteran fed up with the all the foot traffic tore Hanson’s awning down, swearing at the players to leave, saying they were disrespectful and doing harm.
So to appease those who say the park is being damaged, the council considered a draft ordinance that would ban activities from walking dogs to free speech. The mayor calls it overreaching.
“I personally have some concerns about some of the language in there that appears to restrict freedom of speech and assembly. That’s something that all these people fought for,” said Peterson.
Players like Hanson say the game brings greater attention to a little-known park and believe conversation — not an ordinance — is what’s needed to bridge recreation with respect.
“It’s restricting more than just this group itself, it’s restricting any kind of gathering that’s down here,” Hanson said.
The city attorney drafted a new ordinance before Monday’s City Council meeting, removing the First Amendment concerns and the words “gaming devices.” The new ordinance lists things that are not acceptable at the memorial, including grilling, tents, hammocks and disorderly conduct. The ordinance also mentions respecting monuments at the park.
Peterson met with veterans before the meeting. The veterans conceded that, though they were against “Pokemon Go” players in the park, a ban would not be enforceable. Players will still be allowed at the park, but the city is working on having the Pokestop moved to a different location in the park.
The City Council also changed the name from Veterans Memorial park to Veterans Memorial.
Watch the full video below. (WARNING: Strong language throughout. Viewer discretion advised.)