Island family starts MI Rocks movement

Community members are joining the fun of decorating, hiding and discovering painted rocks around Mercer Island.

The Ronald family is showing the community that Mercer Island Rocks!, with more than 200 little reminders.

Rich Ronald, along with his wife Beatrice and kids, 10-year-old Varenna and 8-year-old Blake, discovered a cool way to celebrate local communities on a recent trip to Whidbey Island. Blake found two painted rocks hidden at Ebey’s Landing, with directions on the back to post pictures to Facebook.

The tiny art pieces are part of the Whidbey Island Rocks campaign, in which rocks are painted, found, photographed and re-hidden or collected by participants.

“Soon we were hunting and finding rocks all over the island, painted and hid a few of our own, and were introduced to the wonderful WI Rocks community,” Rich said.

The Ronalds were inspired to replicate the project on Mercer Island, and Rich started the Mercer Island Rocks! Facebook page on Aug. 6.

The Ronalds have painted 100-200 rocks of their own to place around the Island, with other artists recently joining the fun. The Facebook group has about 90 members. The Whidbey Island Rocks group has grown to 9,000 members since June.

The rock hiding commenced at the inaugural “Mercer Island Rocks! Sleepover,” Rich said. Blake, Varenna and their friends spent a couple of hours painting rocks before Richard and Beatrice shuttled them around Saturday night all over the North end to strategically hide their creations. They hoped to ensure a “critical mass” of rocks to find so that it would be more likely to catch on.

“My crew looked like a swat team bursting out of the car, running into a park, hiding rocks and then dashing back to drive off to the next location, screaming and laughing the whole time,” Rich said.

Each Mercer Island rock has short instructions on the back, asking the person who found it to post a picture on Facebook at the Mercer Island Rocks group page — and if there is room, to note that they can keep the rock or re-hide it.

“The idea is to spread little gems of happiness around the island — to create and share creations celebrating our wonderful community,” Rich wrote on Facebook. “And maybe even get folks hunting for objects that don’t require an app to be seen (though we love Pokemon Go as much as the next family!).”

He said that collecting rocks can be even more fun than collecting monsters, without “the screen-ification of the non-screen world.”

“There is a real thrill when you find your first rock, but there is an equal or greater thrill when you see someone else’s post of them finding a rock you created and hid,” he told the Reporter. “That is what seems to truly connect participants — the exchange of little treasures.”

Ideally, Rich said, his role in this project will wither away as the community itself keeps it going organically.

Rich said that people are craving community at a time when conversations between neighbors on NextDoor often devolve into political shouting matches. Everyone can agree that creating art and using it to experience the community in a fresh way is a good thing, he said.

“In our experience, every rock, from simple pattern to artistic masterpiece, has its own charm and is a thrill to find,” Rich said.

Mercer Island Rocks group member Erin Vivion, who is also on the city’s Arts Council, said she is excited about the possibility that “in the process of hunting and hiding, our community has the chance to become better acquainted with the public art we have on the Island.”

She said she would lead the council in painting and hiding some “themed” rocks (for Mostly Music and Shakespeare in the Park, for example) at various public art sculptures around the Island.

Her son Elliot, age 6 and pictured at left, found a rock after following clues on the Facebook page.

The Ronald family said that one of their favorite hiding places is Train Park at Merderdale.

If you wander around the Sunset Highway Sculpture Park, keep an eye out; the Ronalds and their helpers (including this Mercer Island reporter) hid some rocks around there Thursday evening.

A few guidelines:

• Don’t hide on private property.

• Don’t hide in retail locations without permission.

• Feel free to keep rocks you love and re-hide other rocks you love.

• Keep the content respectful (though cheeky and irreverent are welcomed).

• Above all, have fun looking at familiar places in the community with fresh eyes.