Rocking Around the ‘Burg
You’re walking through St. Pete’s Crescent Lake Park on a Wednesday afternoon and you see a particularly colorful rock. Unable to resist, you pick it up. This is no ordinary glittery stone. It’s painted orange and pink and blue with a goofy cartoon bird winking at you from its smooth surface. Is it game piece? A lost toy? You flip it over and there’s a message: Go to St Pete Rocks Facebook page.
Before you can even pocket the stone, you’ve got your phone out. That’s when you learn that there’s a whole community – a seemingly secret world – of “painters, hiders, and posters” of painted rocks sharing their art and telling stories about their finds.
St. Pete resident Kim Laskey started the St Pete Rocks Facebook group in November of 2016, but the phenomenon is not limited to St. Petersburg. There are “rocks” groups in many cities as part of a nationwide movement that naturally pairs artists and treasure seekers of all ages.
Laskey, who works as assistant manager of the Bilmar Beach Resort in Treasure Island, was inspired by the Lakeland Rocks group in Hillsborough County. “I spent the night before Thanksgiving 2016 painting rocks with my friends and family. We hid them all over Lakeland,” Laskey said. “Then, shortly after, I started rocking downtown.”
What started as a small group of people on an open Facebook group hiding painted rocks and re-posting their found treasures exploded into a group of more than 30,000 members. Laskey eventually made the group joinable by request only, though requests are often quickly granted.
One of the group’s most committed members, Kathy Powell, has been “rocking” since 2017. She’s painted 10,000 rocks since she first started, a hobby she sought to distract from losing a close family member. More than seven years later, and she still wants to spread a little kindness with her rocks and a paintbrush.
“I think it resonates with people so much because finding one of our rocks just puts a smile on your face,” Powell said. “I know one woman found a rock with the word ‘hope’ on it. She had just been diagnosed with cancer.”
Powell has dozens of stories like this to share. One member found and posted a rock of Powell’s that reminded her of her grandmother, and after writing back and forth online for a while, Powell sent her a stone. “She said my rock brought tears to her eyes,” Powell said.
The popularity of St Pete Rocks didn’t happen overnight, though Laskey said the group went viral shortly after conception when 10 Tampa Bay aired a news segment on the artist concept in 2017. “I had to make it a private group because we started blowing up and getting spam on the page,” Laskey said, laughing. “But it’s for everyone. You don’t have to be an artist to be a part of this.”
Since those early days, St Pete Rocks members have made hiding colorful rocks an art every day in nearly every greenspace in town, from the Vinoy to the beaches and beyond. In fact, painted rocks pop up in all sorts of spots, from Publix parking lots to the grassy patches and tree hollows of the Old Northeast. What you do with the rock is up to you. Keep it, post it, re-hide it for someone else to find – there are no rules, though it’s always nice to share your treasure.
Members have also organized events, mainly pre-pandemic, where they get together to paint, or hide in local parks. They’ve rocked out on floats at the St. Pete Christmas Parade and Pinellas Park Christmas Parade, and set up tents at community events like Sanding Ovations on the beach. “It’s really taken on a life of its own,” Powell said. “It’s a good community, and so many people have become fast friends because of it. Definitely a lot of connections here.”
If you want to participate, the process is fairly simple. Request to join St Pete Rocks and once you’re there, feel free to go to town. Group administrators say that small rocks are often available at hardware or craft stores, but any old stone will do. The serious rockers often use outdoor-resistant paint and a small brush, but anyone is welcome to paint with what they have. It’s not rocket science, after all.
“It doesn’t take any talent, and it just lights people up to find a colorful rock like ours somewhere,” Powell said. “I’m 61 years old, and I still just love to see the way people react when they find one of our rocks. It just feels good.”
While this article highlights the St Pete Rocks group – sans period – there are other groups on social media, including the smaller, but active St. Pete Rocks. You can also search “rocks” groups for many other local cities.