The painted rocks of Juneau

If you go hiking in the Juneau area, you might find some rocks that look a little different.

A national hobby of painting designs on small rocks and hiding them for others to find has made its way to Alaska.

Thousands of people are members of local rock painting Facebook groups for communities from Sitka to Fairbanks.

Heather Stemmerman paints a rock surrounded by her supplies (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Heather Stemmerman is an amateur painter, but you won’t find her work hanging on the wall or sitting in a gallery.

She paints on small rocks, and hides them on local trails for others to find.

The rocks feature all kinds of designs – animals, scenes, abstract patterns and more.

Stemmerman likes experimenting, and it’s a relaxing way to wind down from her job in incident management with the Coast Guard.

She sometimes paints rocks with her husband and 5-year-old son, but she enjoys painting by herself as well.

“I like just getting into it, kind of testing my artistic ability, getting better and better each time,” she said. “I kind of just Zen out – it’s my little stress relief at the end of the day.”

She’s not alone.

A Juneau Facebook group featuring pictures of rocks people paint and find was started about nine months ago and has more than 1,800 members.

“I like seeing pictures of people collecting those rocks,” she said. “I get more joy in other people finding them than me finding them.”

Heather Stemmerman paints a rock surrounded by her supplies (Photo by David Purdy/KTOO)

Stemmerman lays out her supplies – dozens of paint colors, brushes and blank rocks.

She base coats each rock first and then moves on to the design.

Her paintings are often inspired by the shapes of the rocks themselves or artwork she finds online.

Her secret weapon for complicated designs? Paint pens.

The last step is protecting each rock with a coat of clear sealant when she’s happy with the design.

Sometimes it takes a couple of tries to get there.

“I’ve definitely covered over some of these if they’re not good,” she said. “I’ll just paint right over it and try again.”

The Forest Service approves of the hobby — with some caveats. They suggest environmentally friendly paints and keeping the rocks small enough to be easily moved if necessary.

“We’re glad that residents and vendors alike come up with creative ways to enjoy their national forest,” said Forest Service spokesman Paul Robbins Jr. “We just ask that they take some time and consider the effects they may have on that ecosystem as well as other people’s enjoyment of the forest.”

If you catch an unexpected splash of color on a local trail, take a closer look – you might just have found a rock by Stemmerman or another local rock painter.

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