Water Festival Rides Pokémon Fad to Increase Attendance

Pokémon Go became the vehicle for education at a water festival that drew a big crowd for a county utility agency in Georgia.
Water Festival Rides Pokémon Fad to Increase Attendance
Getting sprayed by water trucks was a highlight for kids at the Athens Water Festival.

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Unless you’ve lived off the grid for the past nine months, you’ve probably heard of the hit game, “Pokémon Go.”

Laurie Loftin learned about the game when she saw visitors to parks and other public areas walking while staring at their mobile devices. She made “Pokémon Go” the theme of a water festival that drew big attendance for the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County (Georgia).

“It was hard not to notice all the people walking around,” says Loftin, water conservation program education specialist for the county. “Once the news coverage hit, you really couldn’t avoid it. I downloaded the app so I could see what everyone was coming for.”

Making it fun

Using their smartphones, “Pokémon Go” players navigate a virtual map to capture Pokémon creatures, then train them and battle them against others at gyms. Loftin applied the game to the seventh annual Athens Water Festival at Sandy Creek Park in September.

“Families bring their kids out because it is something really fun,” says Loftin. “From there we’re able to speak to the adults, who aren’t likely to come to a workshop on their own. So we’re able to get water education to both kids and parents.”

During the festival, kids get sprayed by water trucks, see the inside of a fire hydrant, and touch marine and freshwater creatures. Adults take part in short workshops to learn about homemade green cleaning products, rain barrels and rain gardens. Singers, dancers and a magician also take part.

Loftin ties current events and fads into each festival. After borrowing from Star Wars for a virtual light-saber battle at the 2015 festival, she focused on Pokémon last year. As attendees entered the festival grounds, their first stop was the county’s “I Made a Splash” booth, which doubled as the Pokémon gym.

There they received a Water Log with directions to locate Pokémon at several of 20 educational booths. Once they completed four activities on the Water Log to capture four Pokémon, they could return to the gym to collect a prize.

The activities encouraged water conservation and the importance of clean water. To capture the Pokémon named Politoed, players had to name three reasons they need and value water. To catch Marill, they learned why it’s important to keep trash and leaves out of storm drains. They caught Squirtle for learning about water efficiency tricks, such as turning off the faucet while brushing teeth.

“The lessons weren’t complicated, but they were ones that we hope stick with these kids,” says Loftin. “It was a lot of fun, and we were very pleased with the results.”

Successful outreach

The 2016 festival drew more than 800 attendees, a record crowd, even though the University of Georgia football team played a home game on the same day. “This is big football country, so any time you compete with the Bulldogs, you don’t know what you’re going to get,” says Loftin.

“The crowd that came out, though, was very diverse. There were a lot of young families with small children, and many older people who just wanted to learn more about our water system. It was a very nice group. We’ve asked young parents about what the best ways to involve them are, and almost all say to find a way to involve their kids.”

That model has earned national recognition. The county Public Utilities Department received a 2016 Partner of the Year award from the U.S. EPA. “I think pretty much everyone takes clean water for granted in this country,” says Loftin. “It’s our job to let people know how important it really is. The more diverse we can make that message, the wider audience we’re going to reach.”


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