A race car, a ladybug, a flower or even a dinosaur — 4-year-old Olivia King knows that the painted rocks she’s looking for can be anything. So, holding her little brother A.J.’s hand in Windjammer Park last Friday, she kept her eyes peeled for the brightly painted stones.
She was on an adventure greater than that single trip to the park with her family, and her excitement was tangible. And the park’s paved trails and stretch of sandy beach became the routes of a treasure map she created while searching under every piece of driftwood and tree.
“We found our first rock at Windjammer on Thursday and they were both just so excited,” said Jenna Taylor King, A.J. and Olivia’s mother. “I couldn’t get her to put it down; she ended up taking her nap holding her rock.”
The rock Olivia and her family found last week is just one of many small treasures being planted throughout Whidbey Island thanks to a Facebook group created by Oak Harbor’s Shelly Graham Darnell. The community page, Whidbey Island Rocks, encourages individuals to turn ordinary rocks into extraordinary works of art that are then hid in parks, outside of businesses and just about anywhere else on the island.
The rocks can be decorated with paint, sharpie markers, crayons and more. They just need a protective coat of clear paint, Graham Darnell said, and to feature a short message on the back sharing the name of the Facebook group and instructions.
Once rocks are found, the “rock hunters” are asked to post a picture of their find to the online page, usually with a short message detailing their experience and their location.
Then the rocks can be kept, re-hid or swapped out for a new creation.
“It’s a low-cost family activity that gets people to go outside and explore the beautiful place that we live in while blessing someone else with a small gift,” Graham Darnell said.
Graham Darnell decided to start the group after a friend tagged her in a Facebook post about a similar group in Port Angeles. Though she created the Facebook group just five weeks ago, it has already drawn 3,503 members and averages about 30 new posts everyday.
“A lot of friends and family quickly caught onto the idea and it just snowballed from there,” Graham Darnell said. “It was crazy how quickly everyone caught on.”
With so many participants, Olivia’s family is not the only one staking out Windjammer. Jayden Anderson, 7, and his 4-year old-sister Raelynn Toodle have spent practically every day hiding and searching for rocks since joining the online group two weeks ago.
“My car is full of rocks — at least over 40 rocks in the back of my car all over the place right now,” said Ashley Anderson, Raelynn and Jayden’s mother.
“He has forever been picking up sticks or rocks,” added Vicki Matthews, Jayden and Raelynn’s grandma. “So it was neat to find an outlet for that.”
Jayden’s family also spent last Friday afternoon at Windjammer planting several creations of their own and scoring one find in the process.
For both Taylor King and Anderson, Whidbey Island Rocks has been a way to get their kids outside and entertained during the summer break.
But the group isn’t just appealing to kids —- adults are also participating in the creative process.
Longtime Oak Harbor resident Akemi Yonezaki has painted and contributed at least a dozen rocks to the phenomenon.
For Yonezaki, the activity is a rewarding creative outlet that she feels is connecting the local community in a time of national need.
Yonezaki has found that the activity is rewarding at every stage —- whether someone is painting a rock, hiding one or finding one, a feeling of great joy is the result.
“It is touching to see how much your rock means to someone else when they find it,” she said.
“You’re just giving a small piece of yourself, a small rock that’s meaningful, but getting so much more in return.”
“The sense of community and connectedness is something we can all use right now,” she added.
Graham Darnell couldn’t agree more.
“It’s a really cool feeling to stumble upon something like that,” Graham Darnell said. “It’s completely unexpected and exciting.”