Painted Rocks -Thumbs Up/Down?

Note:  This is the first in a series of blogs that will attempt to offer pros and cons of various topics related to the outdoors.  We are sending out queries to the alumni of Nature Reliance School classes to get us started.  Our hope is that this gives us a way to consider various topics on more than one side of the issue. 

Painted rocks are becoming “all the rage” these days as a way of connecting people to the natural world.  If you are unfamilar with the practice, it involves taking stones/rocks from the natural environment, then painting and/or decorating them with  designs.  After doing so, the rocks are then placed in different places.  Some of the more common places is for them to be placed in and around city parks, parking lots at trail heads, and into wilderness areas along trails.

A few weeks ago my daughter and a friend were hiking in the beautiful Red River Gorge and came across some of these painted rocks on a trail nearly two miles from the nearest road.  Upon hearing this, it concerned me and I invested a bit more thought into it.  It may mean nothing to you, but it certainly means more than that to me.  As I queried the alumni of our classes, I got several good responses on both sides of this issue.

I think it’s nice. We need more nice. I know it’s defacing a rock but we have plenty small rocks to go around. – CP from Kentucky.

The kids at church painted rocks and took them to a children’s hospital rock garden as a get well wish for sick children. Some people wouldn’t want them in the wilderness as it disrupts ‘natural beauty’.Some paint may be more toxic than others to the environment. – ST from Virginia

Meh. I generally prefer nature to be nature. It doesn’t bother me at all to see stacked rocks at points of interest. Would prefer painted rocks stay in city parks and such. – DH from Kentucky

I’m all about the leave no trace left behind, however, like Ikebana or bonsai arts, if what you are doing is enhancing while not disrupting the balance of nature then it should be fine. This is challenging & its an art that take lots of practice to do. – DV from Illinois

Some people feel “leave no trace” should include not wearing bright colors not found in nature because it can be upsetting to the eyes. I feel like the most important things I can do for nature are the things I do when I’m in “civilization” like trying to reduce how much plastic I use and how much I consume and throw away. I know if there were little painted signs like this all along a trail, it would detract from my enjoyment, but if I get mad about it, I’m only hurting myself. The intent of LNT is to keep the wilderness wild so everyone can enjoy it the way that it comes, but it’s best to focus on what you personally can do rather than trying to control the actions of others. – TH from Kentucky

I believe these are some great thoughts and opinions worthy of consideration.  The reason I started this series is because my own thoughts on this are mixed.  On one hand I like getting people interacting with nature.  Experiential education with the outdoors has proven to be a valuable.  In a city park where development and human interaction is so blatantly evident, I have no issue with rocks being placed there if the person or entity that own or oversee it have no issue.  However, I have incredibly serious reservations about taking these to a wilderness, wild, or otherwise natural area.

I have had the good fortune of training students that come to our classes from literally all over the world.  I can also include the nearly 40,000 subscribers we have on YouTube from all over the world as well.  I get a lot of diversity in those that I get to work with.   It seems to me that most Americans have within them a need to “conquer” something.  It is a mindset of winning at all costs, rather than blending.  I think this is good in many, many aspects of life.  Working hard is a good ethic to embody.  However, I think nature is something we should blend with and not have a mindset of defeating it.

It seems people take these rocks and place them in locations to show others that they have already been there, that they “conquered” that portion of trail, that climb, etc.  That is ego speaking.  I think most people go to the natural world to enjoy it for themselves and not relish in the accomplishments of others or to be reminded of others passage.  I think it is egotistic to put these rocks in natural areas.

I cannot be any more sincere when I tell you that I would enjoy the opportunity to hear your opinion.  Although I have mind as you can see, I enjoy hearing others as it proves to help me grow in my knowledge and understanding.  We hope this starts a conversation wherever you see this posted.

UWG-139Craig Caudill is the Founder and Chief Instructor of Nature Reliance School. He specializes in teaching outdoor related topics to include, survival, tracking, nature awareness and more for private or public groups, and government agencies.  Craig’s first book is Extreme Wilderness Survival from Page Street Publishing, distributed by Macmillan Publishing.  Craig’s second book, Ultimate Wilderness Gear, is coming in July 2018 and can be pre-ordered now!

Craig is a also frequent  contributor to TV outlets, blog sites, magazines and is a popular online outdoor educator on his YouTube channel.  Pick up the books, subscribe to him on youtube, or join Craig and the other NRS Instructors in a class so they can help you be more safe and aware in the outdoors.





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