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Science & Technology

Balboa Park Is Swarming With Pokemon Go Players

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Balboa Park Is Swarming With Pokemon Go Players

Pokemon Go, the smartphone game that involves moving through the real world to catch imaginary Pokemon, will bring scores of gamers to Balboa Park this weekend.

Thousands of local Pokemon Go fans on social media are planning to meet up in Balboa Park to play the game on Saturday afternoon. Park officials say they're glad the game is luring people to San Diego's crown jewel, and they're cautiously optimistic the event will go well and have minimal impact on the park.

Friends of Balboa Park's Executive Director John Bolthouse said, "We welcome groups to come and enjoy the park in a respectful manner, and maybe even discover something they hadn't otherwise known about here in Balboa Park."

Point Loma resident Chloe Benkner, who organized Saturday's event, originally hoped about 50 people would join her to play Pokemon Go in the park this Saturday. But the Facebook event she created to arrange the friendly meet-up quickly exploded.

As of Friday afternoon, around 5,300 people said they were going. Another 12,000 said they were "interested" in Benkner's event.

"I just want to keep this safe. I want to keep this fun," said Benkner, who was feeling a bit overwhelmed two days before the event.

She worried attendees might litter, become overly competitive or lose track of their surroundings while staring down at their phones.

Benkner said, "I don't want people to run into traffic if some random person decides to scream there's a legendary on the other side of the park."

("Legendary" Pokemon are desirable to catch because they're rare and have special powers.)

Pokemon Go fans can be found in Balboa Park any day of the week, not just during large events organized on Facebook.

Keanu Marino said he's been coming to Balboa Park daily because it's swarming with rare Pokemon.

Marino said it's a great place to play — he recently spent 14 hours in the park getting lost in the game — but if thousands of people do show up to Saturday's event, he thinks things could get hectic.

"It's kind of exciting but at the same time, we don't want anything bad to happen," he said. "It's a really innocent game, and there are a lot of kids that play it. So I just hope everything goes well."

Some areas of Balboa Park have become particularly popular.

Dylan Callaway said throngs of Pokemon Go fans were playing at the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden last weekend. He even saw a few savvy entrepreneurs catering to the gamers.

"They were selling stickers for your phone, for your car. They're selling snacks, drinks," Callaway said. "They have generators and they ask for donations to plug your phone in."

People who work in Balboa Park say the WiFi is noticeably slower, but they're still happy to see the influx of gamers.

Kim Keeline runs a booth where visitors can rent motorized wicker carts called Electriquettes. She said some players have been using the old-timey carts to go hunting for Pokemon.

"This is a place for all of us to hang out and enjoy," she said. "And if Pokemon Go reminds them of that, I say more power to it."

The San Diego Park & Recreation department is aware of Saturday's event. It's not expecting any major issues, but a city spokeswoman said park staff will be on the lookout for any gamers who may be littering or playing in an unsafe way.