Okeechobee Rocks: Residents start new outdoor game

OKEECHOBEE — Move over Pokémon! There is a new game in town, and it has taken Okeechobee by storm.

If you are at all observant, you may have noticed some unusual rocks popping up all over town, especially in local parks and playgrounds.

These rocks are painted with various designs ranging from Hello Kitty to flowers to hearts to Ninja Turtles. The question on everyone’s lips is “What’s with these painted rocks?”

Mary Dingus-Hayes provides the answer to this question. She is the founder of the Okeechobee Rocks Facebook group. According to Mrs. Dingus-Hayes, “This group was created to bring happiness and inspiration to Okeechobee County.”

Her sister lives in Martin County, where there is a very active rock painting/hunting group, and when Mrs. Dingus-Hayes learned of that group, she was determined to bring this same fun and excitement to her own hometown.

Those who find the painted rocks are encouraged to post photos on the Okeechobee Rocks page on Facebook, so those who hid the painted stones will know someone found them. One mom shared that her child is delighted when someone posts a photo of a rock he decorated.

On New Year’s Day, Mrs. Dingus-Hayes started her group with just a few friends and family. Buying rocks at Home Depot, they painted them, and hid them around town. She says that things started slowly at first, but last week they welcomed their 1,000th member to the group. Recently, Mrs. Dingus-Hayes along with Jonell Hall, another group member, held a rock painting event at Haven Street, where several children had the opportunity to paint rocks at no charge to their families. Mrs. Dingus-Hayes is in the process of organizing a similar event for the Okeechobee Health Care Facility, and hopes to finalize the details for that soon.

According to Brandi Alfonso, another member of the group, there are no official rules in the rock hunting game, but there is an unofficial etiquette that is encouraged:

• Never hide a rock in or near a place that sells painted rocks.

• Once you have finished painting your rock, always seal it before hiding it in order to protect your art from the elements and to protect the clothing of the people who find the rock.

• If you find a painted rock, you can either keep it or re-hide it for someone else to find. If you decide to keep a rock, you are encouraged to hide one of your own painted rocks in its place.

• Participants are encouraged to take photos of the rocks they find and post them on the Okeechobee Rocks facebook page.

• Artwork that is PG rated is appreciated as kids love to look for and find the hidden rocks.

• On the back of the rock you are encouraged to reference the Facebook group Okeechobee Rocks.

• Please be careful where you hide your rocks so that they don’t cause any damage to property (for example, do not hide in the grass where it can damage a lawn mower or hurt someone).

• Don’t steal rocks from private property or from someone’s landscaping.

• Don’t trespass.

• When you paint a rock and place it for others to find, consider it a gift and let go. You may never see it again.

Mrs. Alfonso encourages members of the group to get together for painting parties and would love to organize a Main Street event so the whole town can come together and enjoy this activity.

Rock painting/hunting seems to draw people from many walks of life, but they all have similar reasons for why they enjoy it.

“It brings families closer together,” said Mary Dingus-Hayes. “It gives kids something to do and gets parents to take them out more.”

Coreen Cole enjoys the time she gets to spend with her family and added that her kids really like it.

Corey Wheeler originally became interested in rock hunting as something to take the place of the annoying negative political stuff going on. She explained that since there was no group in Okeechobee at the time, she took her son to Traditions twice to hunt. When she saw that a group had started here, she began hiding the rocks from Tradition along with some she had painted. Mrs. Wheeler’s husband enjoys painting rocks too, but has no interest in hunting them so he leaves that to the rest of the family.

Crystal Raulerson loves rock hunting.

She exclaims, “I get so excited when I find one. It’s like a treasure hunt, and the rocks are the treasure! I love it. I think it brings so much happiness and joy to many people.”

Perhaps, one of the most interesting stories came from Ann Loftis regarding the birth of her grandson Raymond Roy Raulerson on Feb. 8. Mrs. Loftis thought it would be exciting to honor her step-daughter Heather Raulerson and the new baby by painting his birth announcement on a rock, hiding it outside the office of the Okeechobee News (since birth announcements are traditionally done in the newspaper) and posting a clue to its whereabouts on Facebook. Mrs. Loftis explained that her goal was to see how many times the rock would be found and re-hidden before Raymond’s first birthday. So, if anyone out there finds that rock, please take a picture, post it on the Okeechobee Rocks Facebook page and then hide it again so it can make its way around the town making everyone smile like his mom did when she saw baby Raymond’s face.

Not surprisingly, the group is growing fast. Mrs. Dingus-Hayes invites all of Okeechobee to join in on the fun. If you have a computer and are a part of the Facebook community, please join them on the Okeechobee Rocks page. However, even if you do not own a computer and have no idea what Facebook is, you can still be a part of the hoopla. Just buy some rocks, paint them, seal them, and hide them.

That is all there is to it, and next time some asks, “What’s with all these painted rocks?” YOU can answer that question!

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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