Rock on: Painting, hiding, finding rocks also creates smiles

PHOTOS BY VICKI JOHNSON Dawn McDonald displays some rocks she recently painted.

Pet rocks have gone mobile.

And their goal is to make people smile.

To fulfill their mission, the rocks have recruited an army of people who paint them, “hide” them, find them and move them from place to place.

Dawn McDonald, the Tiffin woman who founded Seneca County Rocks, said she was inspired to create a local group after learning about Northwest Ohio Rocks from a Facebook post.

She contacted the head of Northwest Ohio Rocks.

McDonald places a rock at the base the sign at Noble Elementary School.

“This is basically all over northwest Ohio,” McDonald said. “I thought Seneca County is more personal and more people will get involved and do it.”

And the idea of painting rocks fit her style.

“I like to paint and sometimes canvases are expensive, and I like rocks,” she said.

She said painting rocks and leaving them in places where other people can find them was something she really wanted to do.

Before she began in February, McDonald said she contacted Tiffin Mayor Aaron Montz, Seneca County commissioners and park personnel to make them aware of the project.

A rock atop a post near a parking lot.

“Everybody said they like the idea,” she said. “They messaged me back and said it was a good idea.”

She started a Facebook page, which the group uses to track rocks. Anyone can be a member of the group — whether they paint, hide or find rocks — or even if they’re just interested. To find the page, search “Seneca County Rocks.”

People post rocks they’re painting and rocks they’re hiding, but the main purpose of the Facebook group is to post photos of rock finds. Ideally, every rock hidden by anyone would be found. Each rock painter includes the Facebook page information, and often includes their personal hashtag.

In turn, the rock finder takes a photo with his or her phone and posts the photo, saying where it was found. Often, they provide information about if and when they plan to hide it again.

McDonald said the people who hide rocks don’t always know who finds them because not everybody is on Facebook or has a phone with a camera.

A label on the back of each rocks directs people to the Facebook page to post photos or rocks found.

But that’s OK.

“I’ve done so many and I’ve only seen not even half of them, but I know people have found them and they made them happy,” McDonald said. “They still smiled.”

People who paint rocks know they’re making people smile, but McDonald said the smiles come full circle when the rock painter sees his or her rock posted on Facebook.

“Then they smile, too,” she said.

“Everyone on the rock group is very important,” McDonald said. “Without those angels, we could not spread smiles and joy to everyone. I love all the members. They are special, creative and loving people.”

Rocks and painting supplies.

And that number is growing steadily.

The group member count Dec. 27 was 2,026, which had grown by 64 people from 1,962 a few weeks ago.

“I’m glad we have so many people do it,” she said. “It spreads the joy, and in these times we need to spread joy all over the place,” she said. “They all have an important part in this — the hiders, the painters and the finders are awesome.”

McDonald said the rock project has had some unexpected benefits as well.

“Families get together to paint and then hide them,” she said. “I like the fact that people are getting together, sitting down and painting rocks instead of playing video games. It’s a nice stress release. You can sit down, not worry about anything and paint a rock, and know it’s going to make someone’s day.”

McDonald places a rock on a sidewalk at Noble School for a student to find.

McDonald’s husband, Tony, helps hide the rocks his wife creates.

“I don’t paint because you’d get stick figures,” he said.

Their son and future daughter-in-law also get involved.

McDonald said she gets rocks to paint by finding them, or by buying small landscape rocks for $1 or $2 per bucketful at Bilger’s Lawn & Landscape, SR 53.

She then washes them and dumps the water outside because she doesn’t want the dirt in her household drains.

She paints the clean rocks with brushes.

“Paint pens work, too, but not as well,” she said. “You can decorate them in whatever fashion you want.”

McDonald started the local hide-and-seek by painting and placing 150 rocks.

She notes that “hiding” rocks actually means placing them in plain sight where people can see them as they walk by.

She also said people should be aware of rock-hiding etiquette.

“I don’t put them in the grass or anywhere that presents lawn-mower hazards,” she said.

She placed her first rocks downtown, on Frost Parkway, around statues and landmarks.

She said one was found during the downtown Easter egg hunt last spring.

“I’ve lost count now how many I’ve done after that,” she said. “Sometimes it’s 40 or 50 at a time.”

She’s places rocks at the city and county parks, and in Fostoria at Iron Triangle Park.

“It comes full circle,” she said. “Fostoria has their own group now.”

She even paced some Seneca County rocks in Findlay and at Marblehead on the shore of Lake Erie.

She’s hidden rocks at Mercy Community Nature Preserve in front of the totem pole and in the natural play area.

“Of course, I had to play on the play area,” she said.

At Schekelhoff Nature Preserve, she placed rocks along the path and near benches.

“I don’t know whose day a I make, as long as I put them out there,” she said.

She hides rocks sometimes at Noble School near her house for children to find.

“It makes them happy,” she said.

She took some to Hocking Hills during a visit.

And she’s been known to hide rocks near geocaches to give people who enjoy geocaching more objects to find.

“All the rocks I paint, I don’t care who keeps them and how long they keep them,” McDonald said.

She said some people visiting from Wisconsin messaged her and asked if they could keep a rock she painted.

“Keep it, if it makes you happy,” she said. “That’s what my goal was.”

McDonald said she finds herself smiling when she finds rocks hidden by other people.

“You found one that made you smile, you tell the story and they smile, too,” she said.

She knows people place rocks in various stores, and she said that’s OK as long as the hider has permission from the store manager. She said there’s some concern about people being seen on surveillance cameras picking up rocks and putting them in their pockets, which could be confused with shoplifting.

“I received two emails from two stores saying they don’t want rocks in their stores,” she said. “So make sure you have permission first.”

Anyone who finds a painted rock in a store might just take a photo and leave it there for somebody else to find, she suggested.

McDonald said there has been some confusion about the rocks. She assures everyone that any painted rock with an identifying tag, either from Seneca County or elsewhere, can be picked up and kept, or re-hidden wherever the finder wishes to place it.

Painted rocks from Seneca County have been found all over the county — and beyond.

Quite a way beyond.

The Facebook page tells stories of rocks being found and hidden at stores, parking lots, restaurants, parks, churches, banks, the hospital, doctor offices, gas stations, and just about any other public location.

Several people visiting the Tiffin area for the holidays found rocks they were taking back to places such as Chicago to hide there.

Some rocks already have become travelers.

One photo shows a rock on a fencepost at an undetermined location, but there’s a large bridge in the background.

Another was on its way to Panama City, Panama.

A woman from Delaware, Ohio, posted last week that her son found a rock where he works in Las Vegas and brought it home to Ohio.

Last fall, this was posted by a California woman:

“My husband and I came out from Southern California to Ann Arbor for the Michigan-Ohio State game (Go Blue!!) to celebrate his birthday, and we found this little rock at a restaurant called ‘Eat.’ My husband wouldn’t touch it since it’s from Ohio (nothing personal) but I love this!! I just wanted to let you all know that this little emoji rock is getting on a plane to California — I’ll leave it in the airport when we arrive and we’ll see where it goes from there! Keep up the painting and may your rocks travel far and wide!!”

Speaking of far and wide, the local group is part of a larger Kindness Rocks movement.

“This woman found a rock and she just thought it would be nice to spread and kindness, and because it makes people’s day,” McDonald said.

The story of the original Kindness Rocks Project can be found at the website,

According to the website, the idea began as a grassroots kindness movement based on the simple idea that “one message at just the right time can change someone’s entire day, outlook, life.” The project promotes random acts of kindness.

“The Kindness Rocks Project was created as a simple reminder that we are all connected as human beings and we share more similarities than differences at our core,” the website says. “Exhibiting kindness and support for one another through random acts of kindness can have a great impact. With increased awareness, kindness can become a connecting force for good, re-connecting individuals and communities at large.”

The project has two goals.

First, to inspire others through randomly placed rocks along the way.

And second, to recruit every person who stumbles upon it to join in the pursuit of inspiring others through random acts of kindness.

Those acts of kindness are traveling the country — as are the local rocks.