W.O. rocks in several ways this summer

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

WEST ORANGE, NJ — If a flash of color on the ground has caught your eye during a walk through any of the parks in West Orange during the last month or so, you’ve probably stumbled upon a painted piece of nature left there by an artist. WO Rocks! is the newest iteration of the rock-painting phenomenon in which people paint rocks in bright colors and designs and leave them in outdoor areas for others to find, chronicling the rocks’ travels with the Facebook group #WORocks and the Instagram account @worocksofficial.

“We started it about a month ago in West Orange,” Perry Bashkoff, the town’s social media coordinator and moderator for the WO Rocks! Facebook group, told the West Orange Chronicle on July 27. “Painting rocks and hiding them helps to get people out in the parks and can really put a smile on someone’s face, which I think we all need right now.”

The idea is to encourage people to paint small stones and shells with designs and positive messages, and then leave them in a park or public place where they can be found by others. When a rock is found, the discoverer can either keep it or hide it again. Social media accounts for towns and counties allow searchers to share what they’ve painted. The WO Rocks! Facebook group has more than 500 members, and the Instagram has more than 100 followers. Residents share their discoveries with the hashtag “#worocks.”

“Eventually we want to expand into some other locations, maybe get businesses involved,” Bashkoff said. “But for now, we have so many great parks that are underutilized.”

Bashkoff added that he’s spoken to people interested in participating who didn’t even know of the existence of some of the public parks in West Orange.

While anyone can participate in WO Rocks!, there are some ground rules. Rocks are not allowed to removed from county or national parks and they may only be hidden in West Orange public parks. The design is up to the artist, but paint sealer has to be used so that colors don’t wash off in the rain and damage the earth. Paint sealer can be found at craft stores, and packages of river rocks can be purchased at Home Depot.

Painting parties are popping up around town. On Monday, Aug. 14, at the West Orange Public Library, paint will be provided to those who bring their own rocks and want to join other rock hunters in a decorating party from 4 to 5 p.m. And the Lyric Performing Arts Center on Harrison Avenue in West Orange will host a painting party Thursday, Aug. 24, with all supplies provided.

“I absolutely think it’s a great way to bring the community together,” Lyric PAC owner Lisha Pena said in a phone interview on July 28. “There are definitely a lot of people who enjoy it. Home Depot loves us right now.”

When satisfied with the painted rock, the only thing left to do is hide it.

“Hide them in flower beds, in trees, in landscaped places that people won’t trip over them,” Bashkoff said. Other recommendations include placing painted rocks on playgrounds and staying off of private property and anywhere where machines like lawn mowers could run over them.

“It becomes a scavenger hunt,” Pena said. “When you find them and then see them on Facebook, you can track the travel of your rocks. I’ve found even adults are posting them and asking what they are, and then getting involved in the community.”

WO Rocks! is a community that draws interest from all age groups, not just the younger generation. West Orange resident Janice Berman heard about the Facebook group and started painting and hiding rocks with her family.

“It’s been really good family time,” Berman said in a phone interview on July 28. “My 11-year-old son is joining me and my husband on our evening walks now. He loves finding and rehiding the rocks.”

For Berman’s family, the initiative is certainly getting them outside more. “Anything to get the kids outside,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful way to go to all of the parks. Our project is to look in all of them, so it’s making us branch out.”

There’s no greater satisfaction than stumbling upon a painted rock. Writing “#worocks” on the back of a masterpiece allows it to be shared on social media before either being brought home or hidden again.

“When you post it, you’ll see it in the group,” Bashkoff said. “And for someone like me who paints them to have someone find them on a random day, that’s really cool.”