Art and nature go together like columbine flowers and hummingbird tongues.
Indigenous artists express their relationship to land through art; Canada’s Group of Seven found inspiration in several Ontario Parks; parks offer residency programs, and our park visitors find many artistic ways to capture their memories. We love it when visitors share their artistic creations with us.
However, a new trend is starting to cause problems province-wide: the painted rock.
We love the creativity
In many ways, painted rocks are an expansion on the long tradition of nature-inspired art.
Not only do they often feature nature-inspired designs, but they also use a natural object as a canvas. These rocks are often left or hidden where others will come across them as a way of spreading kindness to strangers.
All of these are wonderful things, but…
With all of the current threats to Ontario’s wildlife, including litter, invasive species, habitat loss, and climate change, painted rocks may seem like small potatoes. Why do we need an entire blog post about them?
Unfortunately, many paints are essentially a plastic coating. Leaving painted rocks in parks adds another source of micro plastics for our ecosystems to absorb. Park staff are also noticing an increasing number of these colourful rocks, and while we appreciate the artists’ intent, our priority is maintaining the ecological integrity of our shared protected spaces.
While we know many rock artists are responsible and use eco-friendly paint, there is no way for our park managers to know if a given rock is friend or foe to wildlife.
Even a responsibly painted rock can inspire a heap of irresponsibly painted ones.
Also, not everyone comes to parks for the same reasons. A pile of brightly painted rocks may bring a smile to one hiker’s face, but another may prefer to see fewer obvious signs of human handiwork.
Parks are one of the few places people can go to experience a sense of solitude.
Painted rocks can take away from a place’s wildness.
Protect the wildlife that inspires you
It may seem that we have an endless supply of pebbles, but nature is not finished with the rocks in our parks. Wind, waves, and ice are still carving them into ever changing forms.
They are slowly being ground into dust, making their component minerals available for plants to grow, bugs to leap, birds to sing, deer to wander, and wolves to howl.
These nutrients will cycle through the food chain only a few times before nature will need more from the rock dust. This is why all things, living and non-living, are protected in parks.
It’s important to leave flowers, animals, feathers, and, yes, even rocks, to continue their role in the ecosystem.
You may still bring rocks from home, and paint them with inspiration from the nature surrounding your campsite.
But when you’re done, make sure to bring the painted rocks home with you, or give them as a gift, whether to a special loved one or anyone who needs their day brightened.
It can be your way of bringing the joy of nature beyond the boundary of your favourite park.