When Katrina and Kevin Higham and their 4-year-old son Noah take a walk through their Raleigh neighborhood, Noah spends most of his time looking down and around. He’s rock hunting, but he’s not after just any pebble. He’s looking for the painted rocks that neighbors hide around their subdivision.
“It’s like finding gold to (Noah),” Katrina Higham said.
The rock painting trend – you paint inspirational messages or cute pictures on rocks for others to find – can be found in communities across the country. Katrina Higham, who works for Cisco, saw the idea on the website Pinterest in the spring.
After a little online research, she found out that rock painting had reached Raleigh and joined the Facebook community Raleigh Rocks, which has more than 1,400 followers.
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Raleigh Rocks is the biggest Triangle rock painting Facebook group, but there are others, including Cary NC Rox, Apex Rocks and Wake Forest Rocks, which Debbie Dart started in April. It now has 245 followers.
Even counties are getting in on it. Duplin (population 59,882) has Duplin County Rocks, with 2,602 members on Facebook. Even the Sampson County town of Garland (population 600 or so) has a rocks Facebook group.
Followers post photo clues about where they’ve hidden rocks, and other users often respond with a photo of the finder – usually a grinning child – holding the rock.
Where did all of this start? NBC’s Today.com traces the movement back to Megan Murphy of Massachusetts, who sharpied messages of encouragement on rocks and left them on Cape Cod beaches.
Murphy told NBC’s “Today” that when she realized how much beachgoers liked finding the rocks, she started the Kindness Rocks Project, which has a website with a map of rock painting subgroups people can join, including Raleigh Rocks.
“It’s about after people find a rock and they have that feeling about the rock and realize there’s another human being who actually gets them,” Murphy told “Today.”
The Highams find rocks in their backyard, decorate them with paint and craft store paint pens and seal them with Outdoor Mod Podge.
“It’s very cheap, and we got started with less than $10,” Katrina Higham said. “It’s art where you don’t have to have talent.”
She bought a rock art book for inspiration, but it’s still a little advanced for Noah, who likes to paint rocks red and say they’re hearts or rubies.
“He’s creative, and it allows him to open his mind,” Higham said. “I don’t want him in front of the TV.”
The family didn’t used to take walks together, but now they “rock hunt” at least once a week. Noah finds a rock every two or three hunts, Katrina Higham said.
The Fourth of July weekend was one of their most exciting hunts – the Highams’ neighbors in their north Raleigh subdivision, Harrington Grove, painted and hid about 60 rocks painted with fireworks and flags, Katrina Higham said.
Noah found, a big turquoise one decorated with purple flowers that said “#RaleighRocks fb” on the back, Higham said.
Debbie Dart started Wake Forest Rocks in April after her daughter returned from a visit to California with a painted rock she found there.
Dart, who has lived in Wake Forest for 25 years, decided rock painting was just the activity to bring the town of approximately 36,000 together.
Dart painted rocks, with phrases like “Smile” and “You’ve got this,” and hid them near small businesses in Wake Forest. She is a small business owner herself – she has run All About Hair & Nails salon in Wake Forest for almost two decades.
Part of her purpose was to get people excited to visit the town’s local businesses, Dart said. But she also wanted to spread messages of encouragement because of an experience she had in 2010. Her adult son David Byrnes had been in a car accident was hospitalized in a coma. She was trying to run the salon and watch over him.
When two of her stylists walked out on her, Dart didn’t think she’d be able to keep her business afloat. She remembers sitting in the salon at 6 a.m. one morning, crying and holding her Bible as she prayed.
She heard a knock on the door, and even though she couldn’t imagine why anyone would be there, she opened it. A client stood outside, a wooden cross in her hand.
She said Dart had been on her heart all night and handed her the cross. Dart could only cry.
“It pulled me off the brink,” she said. “I’ll never let go of that cross because it changed my life.”
Now she paints rocks hoping they’ll bring a bit of hope to others in Wake Forest. Byrnes, who can walk and speak again but still struggles with seizures due to the accident, helps her hide rocks.
“I’m just praying each rock touches who it needs to touch,” Dart said.
Evie Fordham: @eviefordham 919-829-4654