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Search for painted, decorative rocks leads to parks cleanup movement

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

The pandemic forced many of us to expand our horizons however we could. For Kim Carr, that meant exploring the outdoors.

“I’d never hiked before the pandemic,” she said.

But being cooped up indoors compelled her to lace up her shoes and head for the hills – Dishman Hills. Carr found additional hiking motivation when she joined 509 Rocks, a private Facebook group dedicated to finding and hiding decorative painted rocks.

While searching for the rocks in the Dishman Hills Conservancy, she found something less desirable.

“There was trash everywhere I looked,” recalled Carr. “That’s when I thought maybe I could organize a competition within our rock group.”

She invited rock club members to take trash bags with them as they hunted for rocks in local parks and post pictures of their cleanup to their Facebook page to be entered into a contest. The prize? A special painted rock by Las Vegas artist Bob Kimball.

“He’s a classical artist who does amazing work,” Carr said. “He’s the most coveted artist out there.”

She offered one of her own Kimball rocks as a prize and launched the monthlong contest in September 2021. Carr didn’t limit entries to parks. She encouraged folks to take trash bags with them wherever they went. Thus, store parking lots and streets got cleaned, too.

By the time of the drawing, about 150 bags of trash had been gathered.

“I knew it would get a response and get people out there,” she said.

When she messaged Kimball to let him know that his work had motivated a massive community cleanup, he replied, “When is the next competition? I’m going to send you some rocks.”

Carr was delighted.

“Kimball’s rocks sell for $75,” she said. “This gave people who couldn’t afford his work an opportunity to win some.”

She launched a second contest in October 2021 and rock hunters doubled their efforts, resulting in 300 bags of trash gathered from across the area.

For Carr, one of the best things about the competitions was hearing reports about how people would approach folks picking up trash, ask what they were doing and then offer to help.

“I was beyond thrilled! The response was bigger than I expected.”

By spring, she was ready to launch another cleanup contest.

“The parks were really dirty,” she said.

The contest began in March. This time, she opened it up to let the children of 509 Rocks members participate and post their trash pick-up photos from the parents’ Facebook accounts.

“Some of the kiddos were out there every day,” Carr said.

The result? About 370 bags of trash were gathered.

Fellow painted-rock enthusiast Susan Stratman helped her tally the group’s efforts.

“I think it worked because these kinds of people were already out hiding or looking for rocks – it didn’t take that much more of an effort to pick up trash in our local parks,” Stratman said. “People post the rocks they hide along with clues. They also posted the trash they found each day. Finding painted rocks can quickly become very addictive, and it became a fun game to post photos of their trash collected each day.”

Carr relishes the results. She hikes most days and always tucks a garbage bag into her backpack.

“It’s so nice to be in the woods and see the woods, not trash,” she said.

She’s planning to host another cleanup soon, but more than that, she hopes she’s planted seeds so that her idea will sprout similar contests in other painted-rock groups.

“It would be cool for other communities to do this,” she said. “I’d love for it to spread to other cities and get parks cleaned up across America.”

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