When "Pokemon Go" launched on Wednesday, July 6, it was as if a magic magnet attracting new visitors to Columbus Metro Parks dropped out of the sky. Over the next few days, Blendon Woods staffers in Westerville noticed an influx of visitors filling parking lots and staring at their phones along the park's trails.

When "Pokemon Go" launched on Wednesday, July 6, it was as if a magic magnet attracting new visitors to Columbus Metro Parks dropped out of the sky. Over the next few days, Blendon Woods staffers in Westerville noticed an influx of visitors filling parking lots and staring at their phones along the park's trails.

The Blendon Woods ranger and his staff responded quickly, fashioning a makeshift sign out of poster board. "Pokemon trainers: We support your quest to catch 'em all!" the sign read, while also noting some park rules and reminders, such as "Only park in designated lots, not on grass or roads."

Soon enough, Highbanks - typically Metro Parks' busiest location - was flooded with "Pokemon Go" players, too. The huge Lewis Center park boasts two gyms and is rife with PokeStops. Plus, it contains a rare Charmander nest, making it one of the few spots where trainers consistently catch the cute orange Pokemon with a fire-tipped tail. Visitors came from cities throughout Ohio and even from neighboring states.

Unlike some park districts elsewhere that were initially resistant to "Pokemon Go," Metro Parks created and shared a Google map of all the gyms and PokeStops at every Columbus-area Metro Park. By the end of July, attendance at Highbanks had increased more than 90 percent compared to the same month last year.

"We welcome the Pokemon trainers," said Metro Parks spokesperson Peg Hanley. "The groups coming in are not people who have typically been to a Metro Park. ... You hear, 'We didn't even know these parks were here.'"

While the crowds have died down a bit, there's still a steady stream of trainers at Highbanks. On a recent sunny Friday afternoon, the parking lot next to the Nature Center (a PokeStop) was nearly full. Visitors wandered the trails while staring at their phones, checking in at PokeStops and catching Pokemon.

Shawn Hoetger, 31, drove from Granville with the goal of catching enough Charmander to evolve a Charmeleon into Charizard. Now at Level 27, Hoetger has been playing "Pokemon Go" since the day it was released, partially for nostalgic reasons. He grew up collecting Pokemon cards.

Recently, though, Hoetger began sensing that his pursuit of Pokemon isn't always so welcome. When passing other people on the trails, he puts his phone by his side. "I don't really tell people," he said. "People frown upon it."

Hanley said there have been some negative side effects to all the people searching for pocket monsters in the parks. Some aren't familiar with park etiquette, so Hanley has seen an increase in litter, as well as visitors taking mountain bikes onto non-bike trails and pets onto non-pet trails. Some groups of trainers also clog trails for hikers and runners.

And while there have been no reported injuries related to "Pokemon Go," Hanley said the increased traffic in parking lots led to nine fender benders at Highbanks between July 6 and September 16. Last year there were no reported car accidents through July.

Some longtime visitors to Highbanks voiced their concerns on social media and on homemade signs they posted near the park entrance that read "Pokemon Go Away!" "Honk to Save Highbanks" and "Wild Lives Matter."

"The regulars thought we put the Pokemon there because they didn't know anything about the game," Hanley said. "They were asking, 'Why did you put these characters here?'"

On that same Friday afternoon at Highbanks, Greg, a 65-year-old hiker, arrived dressed in a plaid shirt, shorts and white tennis shoes with his trail-ready accessories (backpack, belt-loop compass, clip-on sunglasses). He had mixed feelings about the influx of visitors gazing at their phones.

Greg, who declined to give his last name, didn't know much about the game, and he was glad the players are getting outside, exercising and spending time in nature, but he'd rather these new park-goers (who rarely say "hi") not stare at their phones while hiking. "I'd rather them be outdoors and enjoy the actual outdoors," Greg said.

He's also not a fan of the limited weekend parking at Highbanks, and he's noticed more litter: cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, paper and even a beer can by a stream.

Despite the downsides, Hanley and the rest of the Metro Parks staff continue to embrace the Pokemon phenomenon by frequently offering Pokemon-related programming and by making new visitors feel welcome.

"There were these two kids, and I was wearing a Metro Parks shirt, and I think they thought I was gonna yell at them," Hanley said. "But I said, 'Hey, what'd you guys find? I'm looking for [Pokemon].' They were like, 'What?! She gets it!'"

Hanley recently hit Level 16 in the game and bought a "Pokemon Go is my cardio" T-shirt. "For people to get out, get active and get into a park, that's what we're about. If Pokemon did it, I'm all for it," she said. "I'm looking for something to drop out of the sky every season for us."