While hunting for Pokémon in the UF Health Shands Hospital parking garage in June, Tillissa Barcia’s 6-year-old son, Austin, found a painted rock.
Tillissa noticed “Rockin’ Alachua County FB” was written on the back of the rock and searched the group. After the mother of two figured out it was part of a community-wide trend, the family got involved, she said.
“These rocks are bringing these people together,” she said. “It’s old people, and it’s young people. It’s really neat.”
Rock painting and hiding has become a popular activity around the state and in Gainesville, with at least four Facebook groups dedicated to the activity locally, including “Rockin’ Alachua County,” which has more than 1,600 members. The group, started by 42-year-old Gainesville resident Wendy Eckhardt, began in March after she heard about a similar group in Martin County.
Eckhardt and her husband and children were visiting family there and heard about the activity from a friend who had started a rock group. After going on a rock hunt with her two kids, who are 9 and 13 years old, she decided she wanted to see rock painting catch on in Alachua County.
“When we got back up to Gainesville (my children) said, ‘We’ve got to start this,’” she said. “I hadn’t heard of anything up here yet, so I said, ‘Alright, let’s paint some rocks.’”
To kickstart the tradition in Gainesville, the family painted about 70 rocks and went from park to park, hiding them in plain sight, Eckhardt said. Now, members post on Facebook when they hide or find a painted rock.
“We have developed this page in the hope that it will spread joy and brighten people’s day just as much as it has in other counties around Florida,” Eckhardt wrote on the Facebook group’s page.
The group’s goal now is to continue to grow and get more people involved, Eckhardt said.
After being a part of the group for more than eight months now, Tillissa, 33, said rock painting is an activity she does with her family. During Hurricane Irma, the family stayed indoors and painted rocks.
“It’s the only thing they could really do that didn’t require fighting or power,” Tillissa said.
For her 4-year-old daughter Avery, rock painting is an occupational therapy as she has cerebral palsy, Tillissa said. Avery scribbles on the rocks and decorates them with stickers, with Trolls and Star Wars being her current favorites, her mother said.
“It really helps getting her left hand moving and actually using it,” Tillissa said.
Gainesville resident Mischella Proebsting has painted more than 400 rocks with her two sons since she heard about the trend a few months ago.
“I got hooked on painting rocks in my downtime and hiding them around town for everyone to find,” Proebsting, 36, said. “For me, rock painting was kind of therapeutic. (For) the boys, they enjoyed it because they could get their fingers messy and go crazy with the colors.”
Proebsting said she heard about a person who was trying to conceive and found a rock with a baby painted on it.
“You could paint something and hit close to home for somebody,” she said.
Proebsting hosted a rock-painting party during the summer with about 10 other moms and their children.
“For those who have never heard of it or never done it, you don’t have to be Picasso to rock paint,” she said. “It’s more about getting together and having fun.”
Eckhardt said people who get involved with rock painting should write the hashtag #rockinalachuacounty on the back of the rock they paint before they hide it.
Participants can post about where they hid their rocks on the Facebook group, but they don’t have to be on Facebook, Eckhardt said.
“The whole point is just to encourage being creative and to get out there and enjoy doing something fun for other people,” she said.