Rock on!

Painting, hiding and finding rocks a trend enjoyed by children, adults

ROCK ENTHUSIASTS —  Darla Burns started the Brooke County Rocks group on Facebook in June and has more than 3,800 members on board, interested in painting, hiding, finding and re-hiding the decorated rocks. The hobby for children and adults is a way to spread smiles and brighten someone's day. Burns will host a rock scavenger hunt beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Town Square in Wellsburg. 
-- Janice Kiaski

ROCK ENTHUSIASTS — Darla Burns started the Brooke County Rocks group on Facebook in June and has more than 3,800 members on board, interested in painting, hiding, finding and re-hiding the decorated rocks. The hobby for children and adults is a way to spread smiles and brighten someone's day. Burns will host a rock scavenger hunt beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Town Square in Wellsburg. -- Janice Kiaski

Many area residents don’t have “rocks in their heads” when it comes to a new trend, but they do have rocks on their minds — painting rocks, hiding rocks and finding rocks, that is.

It’s all part of an activity involving children and adults in a fun craze designed to spread smiles and brighten someone’s day.

Its premise is simple, according to Darla Burns, who started Brooke County Rocks, one of a number of local Facebook-based groups dedicated to painters, hiders and finders of the small rocks.

People regardless of age or artistic ability, she noted in a recent letter to Wellsburg Council, paint, hide and find rocks and are encouraged to post a picture to the Facebook page to show the rock has been found, kept or re-hid.

Launched June 13, Brooke County Rocks has 3,855 members.

“I have seen more families out walking together and have heard from many how much fun they are having and how much more time they are spending together, and I am amazed at the artistic ability in our small area,” her letter noted.

Burns explained prize rocks have been hidden and when found can be exchanged for a prize she provides. A free rock painting party was held, and a donation by Koppers enabled the group to offer fair passes and cash prizes for prize rocks in addition to supplies for a free rock painting event held at the Brooke County Fair, she explained.

The activity, she notes, lifts spirits and sparks creativity.

Burns’ letter was to seek approval — which was granted — for her to host a rock scavenger hunt on Saturday. It will begin at 1 p.m. at the Town Square in Wellsburg and is open to the public. Depending on how quickly the rocks are found, it will likely be over around 2:30 p.m.

In an interview with the Herald-Star, Burns noted she learned about the kindness rocks project going on in other parts of the country.

“After my niece had found one on vacation, I decided to paint a few rocks and start a Facebook page to see if others were interested,” she noted.

“Anyone is welcome to join us in whatever aspect they chose — painter, hider, hunter or all of the above,” she said. “For painting, we request that all rocks are sealed with a clear sealer to protect the artwork as well as whatever the rock may be hidden in. We suggest ‘hiding in plain sight’ — with caution taken to not hide them where damage or injury could happen,” Burns noted.

“Common sense is a basic guide. Parks, trails and benches are popular spots. Most of the area stores are very kind in allowing us to hide outside of their businesses,” she continued.

Finders can either keep the rock or re-hide although the painters enjoy their rocks being re-hidden, she said. “We ask that the finder post a picture on our Facebook page, so the artist will know that they brightened someone’s day. Many include a hashtag on their rock, along with a label on the rock directing the finder to the correct page to post their picture. The hashtag makes it easier for the artist to search for posts that include their rocks,” she explained.

In commenting on the many varieties of rocks, Burns said people “seemed to enjoy the Michael Jackson, Prince, ‘Golden Girls’ and cartoon characters, and many have commented that ones with an inspirational saying were just what they needed that day.”

“Personally, I was very proud of a Dr. Seuss mountain I had painted with the saying ‘you’re off to great places.’ The finder was to write their own great place on the back and re-hide. It circulated for a bit, then disappeared,” Burns said. “I also loved a couple of military-themed ones. The finder was to write a veteran’s name on it and re-hide.”

The activity has made Burns realize the area boasts many artists. “Some of these rocks are amazing, and there are always the ones the kids have painted. You can’t help but smile thinking about how excited they were to paint and hide.”

Added Burns, “Our goal is smiles — whether painting or hiding or being the person who happens upon one of our rocks,” she said, adding, “We’ve had them travel to a number of places — Colorado, Alaska, Florida, Canada and one is going to England.”

Madeline McGowan of Wellsburg first heard about the rock craze through her involvement with the Energy Express summer reading program.

“They were telling me about the rocks, and I didn’t understand,” McGowan said. Once she did, however, she brought rocks for all the children to paint on the last day of the program.

McGowan is now hip to rocks and enjoys participating. She’s hidden 150 since June and has done 40 with her granddaughters in Morgantown.

“If you would put the rocks out and sit in your car, to see these children so excited to find them,” she said, smiling.

A snowbird, McGowan said Florida has a 727 Rocks group that she joined with intentions of “showing them what West Virginians can do.”

Misty Morrissett of Colliers got involved through Burns and hopes it will be a year-round activity for her family.

“It gets the kids away from the TV,” Morrissett said.

Her 9-year-old daughter, Jamie, 9, likes it, identifying her favorite one as having been decorated with melted crayon.

Her reaction when she finds one? “I scream and say ‘rock!'” Jamie offered.

“I like doing it because it gets us out of the house, it’s some exercise, and she’s not into a tablet or a device,” Holly Smith said, “and the excitement that Taylor gets from it. We walk from one end of the town to the other, at least three to four times a week in the evenings.”

Taylor has found as many as 32 rocks in one day. The prettiest was one of Thumper.

“It’s just fun for the kids and fun for families,” added Patty Lish, Darla’s sister.

Ella Gagich, 5, and Parker Gagich, 8, the children of Jonathan and Jessica Gagich of Wellsburg, are fans of the craze as well. “It’s just fun,” said Parker. Ella’s coolest rock was a “polka dot one.”

The end of the 2016-17 school year and start of the summer brought the launch of Toronto Rocks, a mother-daughter undertaking by Teresa Gamble and 10-year-old Adrianna Swartz.

“I had seen the Weirton and Brooke groups and how much fun it was generating for kids there and thought Toronto kids would enjoy this, too,” Gamble said in explaining her motivation to start the Gem City-based group.

“I knew it would be an activity to do with my daughter and said, ‘Hey, want to start rock page with me?’ and she loved the idea and said, ‘Let’s do it,'” Gamble said.

The response surprised her.

“I didn’t think it would catch on as it did,” she said.

The group has about 1,150 members.

Asked what she thinks is the appeal of painting, hiding and finding the rocks, Gamble responded, “I think it’s just the fact it’s an activity where you can spend time together as a family. I have enjoyed sitting and painting rocks with my daughter and enjoy walks and just the joy you get when you find the rocks.”

Asked about “rock rules,” Gamble said, “If you find a rock you love and want to keep, you have to paint two more and replace it with two.”

How the rock is decorated is as limited as the imagination, obviously being “kid friendly” and “tasteful.” Fall and Halloween, for example, have prompted rocks created to convey that.

“We ask that you take a picture and post it to the Toronto Rocks Facebook page so the person who hid the rock can see it is found and that you include, if it had a hashtag, that, too,” Gamble said.

“A lot of people are doing Halloween themed rocks, and there are some beautiful Halloween ones and fall ones out there,” she said.

Shark Week featured annually on the Discovery Channel prompted rocks decorated with favorite sharks.

“I think it’s a great thing for families. It has brought so many people together,” Gamble said of the activity. “I would just say the purpose is to spread friendship and love and to brighten people’s day, because with a lot of rocks people are putting special quotes on them, and someone might find that rock who really needed it, and it might have significant meaning. I have had people say they had a bad day and finding a rock made it better.”

Toronto rocks have traveled, according to Gamble. “We have had rocks in Florida, Tennessee and one in California.”

And they have been part of an event, too, having a booth presence, for example, at the “Off with the Cuffs” program held in July at the Misty River Marina in Toronto.

“We generated a lot of kids and a lot of families,” she said.

Gamble posted on the Toronto Rocks page that Pet Supplies Plus at the Fort Steuben Mall in Steubenville, where she is employed, will host a rock painting event from noon to 3 p.m. Nov. 11. The public is welcome to attend.

Visiting family in Florida was Raeanne Lippold’s first exposure to rock groups.

At first she found the idea “silly,” but once she saw the expression on her niece’s face when she found a rock, it changed her opinion.

Lippold was inspired to start a rock group herself earlier this year and identifies Weirton Rocks as the “original rock page” in Weirton. It has about 1,270 members.

It was slow to take off with posts, though, she said, and she would paint and hide them near bus stops so children could find them.

“The main object of it is to make somebody’s day, make somebody smile,” she said.

And people appreciate that, according to Lippold.

“It’s mostly for the kids,” she said.

“There are a lot of people in my group — not necessarily all from Weirton. The first person to post about a rock find was a woman from Pennsylvania,” Lippold said, noting the woman encouraged her to keep hiding the rocks and be patient despite a slow start.

“People say they’re so happy this has taken off,” she said, noting the thing she enjoys most is “painting the rocks with the kids.

“I just get so excited. You know how kids are with arts and crafts,” she said of the activity she does with nieces and nephews.

She said some people get discouraged if they never see a post that their hidden rocks have been found, pointing out not everyone has access to Facebook or a camera phone.

One thing Lippold said she’d like to get across about the rock craze is that “it’s cool to see it (rock finds) on Facebook, but what you’re really looking for is to make that person’s day. Maybe you don’t see it on Facebook, but that other person saw it (who found the rock) and that’s the point.”

Marland Heights Rock Around the Block #RATB is a Facebook rock group created by Linda Haddon, whose sister, Darla Burns, is the creator of Brooke County’s.

“I started it about three months ago,” Haddon explained of the Weirton neighborhood group, noting the growing popularity of painting, hiding and finding rocks motivated her to start a rock group to involve youngsters who live on the hilltop.

“I wanted to do our own little thing up here, and there are a lot of kids on the hill,” she said.

The Facebook group has slightly more than 300 members.

“The kids get excited and love it,” said Haddon, who has painted and hidden 200 rocks.

Rocks for decorating are sometimes donated or Haddon buys them for $5 a bucket from a landscaping store, she explained.

Haddon has done everything from food items such as corn on the cob to animals to ones promoting the importance of reading, which prompted a Dr. Seuss and a Peter Pan rock.

Halloween ones are popular at the moment.

Creating them and hiding them keeps Haddon busy, creative and pleased, especially at the reaction of rock finders.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback,” she said, noting parents will post how excited their kids were to find the rocks, some of which come with clues and prizes, such as a bag of treats.

In light of Halloween, for example, Haddon hid three orange rocks, each with a letter to spell the word “b-o-o.” The first to find all three won. She planned to hide about 30 rocks this weekend. “Some are Halloween, and I’ve written ‘prize’ on the back of about 10, so whoever finds them will win a prize,” she noted.

Some post what they’ve found and some don’t, according to Haddon. “To see posts of kids with big smiles when they find these rocks, it’s like the best thing in world for them,” Haddon said.

While the idea is to rehide a rock that’s been found, if a child is having a hard time parting with one he or she is especially fond of, no problem. Haddon said she’ll paint another one to replace it.

Haddon has hosted rock paintings at Marland Heights Park, including one earlier this month during a kids day at the park with rocks, paint and brushes provided. About 70 children participated.

“It’s just all to make the kids happy,” she said.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

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