When does spreading acts of kindness become a Leave No Trace issue? When the kindness comes in the form of painted rocks left in national parks.
The painted rock project has taken the outdoor world of rocks by storm. The Kindness Rocks Project started the trend, encouraging people to find smooth rocks, paint them with inspirational messages or pictures, and hide them for others to find. The hope is that finding the rock will improve someone’s day, and encourage them to start painting and hiding their own rocks. The trend has become popular with young children and has sparked many community Facebook pages where followers post photos of their rocks and hints to where they are hidden. Members share tips of what paint is the best to use, design options, and how to seal your rocks so the painting isn’t washed away by the elements. Painted rocks seems to be the modern day geo-caching! All the rock hiding was fun and games, however, until they began showing up in national parks.
However, most trampers explore New Zealand’s national parks to enjoy the simplistic beauty of nature and finding rocks touched by humans can be a disappointing find.
New Zealand national parks do not have specific policies on painted rocks, however, visitors are encouraged to leave the parks exactly as they are found, namely, taking nothing and leaving nothing. Leaving painted rocks tarnishes the natural environment and can negatively impact the ecosystem around it. The rock may have been an insect’s shelter and protection, and putting the rock in the new environment may not be right for that park’s ecosystem. Something as small and seemingly harmless as moving rocks can further deteriorate our national parks. Not to mention, if toxic paints are used or flake off, the paint enters into streams or is licked off by animals in the parks.
National Parks in the United States have had to publicly address the issue, citing Leave No Trace policies are broken when one leaves a painted rock in a national park. On multiple social threads, their friendly approach was shut down by angry painted rock lovers who feel the rocks bring joy to those who find them. The Marlbourough District Council has banned painted rocks from several area parks for the risk they were causing when lawnmowers mowed over them.
When questioning if leaving rocks in a national park aligns with LNT policies, remember, it’s in our name: we want to leave no trace on the trails, and unfortunately, the rocks don’t make cut.
Decorate your home, your property even beautify your neighbourhood, but don’t try to improve on nature- it ends up being another intrusion of humans into nature in an attempt to make it better. We have had enough failed attempts at this (introducing possums for one) that we should hold back and leave no trace.