HALLOWELL — Pokémon GO players from an Augusta-based group picked up trash, cigarette butts and other small debris littering the brick sidewalks along Water Street on Saturday afternoon.

The whole time they walked and worked, they had their phones at the ready, hoping to capture the virtual cartoon monsters that give them points and bragging rights in the game that captured the interest of hordes of smartphone users when it debuted last month.

The community service effort by the group to respond positively after two signs were erected a week ago at 210 Water St., delineating private property and taking digs at Pokémon GO players by calling them “moron” and telling them to “get a real job.”

Adam Patterson, who also operates Timeless Treasures at 140 Water St. in Hallowell, said he paid for and put up those signs after some players failed to stay off his property at 210 Water St., kept bothering his tenants, and blocked their parking spaces despite his repeated pleas not to do so.

At his store Saturday, Patterson said he had nothing more to say about the controversy and that it was too soon to tell if his tenants no longer were affected.

Other storefronts along the street, including the Harlow Gallery, welcomed the players, offering a place to cool off and recharge on the bright, steamy afternoon.

Mike Silva carried an orange bucket, bending to pick up cigarette butts trapped between bricks; Maggie Coffin carried the cellphone and searched for Pokémon GO figures.

The Augusta couple said they planned to switch roles so Silva could look for the cartoon monsters also.

Coffin said she was the first person to notice the sign posted along the Water Street sidewalk that called Pokémon GO players morons. She posted a photo of it on the group’s Facebook page, which resulted in all the interest.

Kate Burns Carll, 60, of Hallowell, watched some of the those doing the cleanup and said, “God bless them for doing it. They’re awesome kids.”

Matt Behr-Fowler was outside his Hallowell apartment building playing Pokémon GO, initially wondering why there were more characters available Saturday afternoon than usual. However, he had seen one of the controversial signs.

“I don’t think people should be playing on private property,” he said. “You don’t have to get that close to get some.”

However, he also said, “I do wish that the signs were a little friendlier.”

Katt James, 25, of Hallowell, a regular player with the Pokémon GO Augusta group, said she saw three teenage boys about 10 o’clock one night on private property along Front Street and explained the situation to them. “But when I walked away; they ended up going back,” she said.

She raced down the Water Street briefly on Saturday afternoon to capture Pikachu, one of rarer characters in the game.

It was easy to see those engaged in the cleanup because of the bright orange buckets they carried — a donation by Home Depot, said Phillip Jones, who was busy setting lures that would spawn more of the Pokémon GO monsters. The lures appear as bits of confetti. “One lure equals one Pokémon every five minutes for about 30 minutes,” Jones said.

Jones was collecting the characters, as were his daughter Clarrissa Lettre, 15, and son Codie Jones, 10.

“We’ve grown significantly closer as a family,” Jones said, attributing that to the shared interest in the game, which requires being outdoors to capture most creatures. “Prior to this, summers would be in an air-conditioned home watching Netflix, frequently in different rooms.”

Jones said he talked with Patterson at his store about the signs and about Patterson’s concerns that people playing Pokémon GO are driving along a privately owned section of Front Street and blocking vehicles belonging to Patterson’s tenants.

“His deal is, ‘We’ll take (the signs) down if we see the activity stop,'” Jones said.

Jones said the group might do a cleanup at Mill Park in Augusta for their next event, since that is one of their favorite gathering and gaming sites.

Pokémon GO Augusta consists of people who have been playing as a group since the GPS-based game by Niantic and Nintendo was released in early July. Players use an app on their smartphones to locate specific sites in the real world where they can catch virtual Pokémon creatures and gain points. The cartoon characters appear and disappear, seemingly at random and at various times of the day. Some sites, known as PokéStops, allow a player to stock up on ammunition in the form of balls that are thrown to catch a character.

Once a player downloads the game on a phone, cartoon characters appear on the phone screen based on what the camera lens picks up, Google Maps and other datasets. The game advises users to “be aware of your surroundings” and warns against playing while driving.

The game can be distracting. International news organizations reported earlier this week that a driver in Japan struck two women while playing the game, killing one of them.

Last month a player apparently was struck deliberately by a motorist at an intersection in Bangor.

Elsewhere, the Pokémon GO game takes people to such locations as Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, which sends members to protest at military funerals as part of a fight against homosexuality. It balances that with a PokéStop, a rest-stop equivalent, across the street at Equality House, which works for positive change for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Some high-profile sites, such as the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., have been removed at their request as PokéStops and locations of Pokémon GO characters.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

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