HOLMES AND WASHINGTON COUNTIES - Local families have been "rockin' out" to a worldwide phenomenon this summer, with participants saying the sensation is bringing the community together in a unique and positive way.

Hundreds of residents have been painting rocks and hiding them for others to find in a modern-day treasure hunt meant to spread kindness, joy, and positivity.

The concept is simple: Rocks are painted with an image or message and then coated with a sealant to protect the art from the elements. Most often, the other side of the rock is painted or labeled with short, simple message directing the finder to a specific rock group's Facebook page. The painter then hides the rock where it is easily seen and posts a photo or other clue on the Facebook page.

Those who find a rock simply read the directions, snap a photo, ask to join one of the groups if not already a member, and upload their story. They may then re-hide the rock, keep it and replace it with one of their own, or just keep the rock.

While the exact origin the painted rock craze is not known, the activity's popularity began spreading worldwide this year, coming to Holmes and Washington Counties over the summer.

Currently, there are Facebook rock pages or groups or for nearly every community with more than total 1,350 members in the group titled Washington Co. Rocks, Chipley Rocks, Bonifay Rocks, Esto Rocks, Westville Rocks, and 124 who "like" the page for Ponce de Leon Rocks.

But while the groups continue to grow, you don’t have to be a member of a special club to participate. Anyone and everyone can paint stones to hide.

Janet Smith began the Bonifay Rocks page and says she learned about "rocking" while at a salon appointment in Tallahassee.

"Someone mentioned they had a rock page in Tallahassee and that we should look at it," Smith said. "We loved the idea and brought it back to Bonifay. It seemed like it just took off overnight."

Smith adds that she is amazed at how hundreds of people - many who are strangers - have all remained positive.

"It is uplifting and like nothing I have ever seen," she said. "No one has posted anything negative or reported anything negative happening, and I have seen nothing but fun and positive messages on the rocks. There are rocks supporting finding a cure for cancer, autism awareness. More importantly, when I am out, I see parents out with their kids, driving around or walking through the park, spending time together."

Cathrine Peel was one of the first to join Bonifay Rocks after she and her sister, Laurie Tinsley, saw the idea on the 850 Rocks Facebook page and wanted to bring the idea to the area.

"We invited our friends' kids over to have an afternoon of painting rocks," she said. "We hid the rocks around town on Friday, July 7 and were going to start a Facebook Rocks page of our own but found Janet Smith had already created a page, so we joined. At that time, it only had about 70 members. In just 5 days, the page grew to 658 members and it has taken Bonifay by a rock storm."

Peel adds that rocking is "a great activity for all families and kiddos."

"It's an affordable summer activity that gets kids outside and active," she said. "Most kids and families are walking the track at the rec center or the path at Middlebrooks Park just to find rocks. It has also been a great activity to do during the summer storms and showers. Paint inside while it's raining, and hide and find when it's not. The activity has also been amazing because a lot of kids who have a physical or health ailments can join in on the fun. It's just a great way to bring joy and love to others."

Diamond Taylor just recently began "rocking" with her daughter and niece in the Chipley Rocks group.

"It's a good way to keep their minds active in the summer," said Taylor. "This is something they can do that gets kids away from the television or video games and into the outdoors, where they can have fun and engage their minds."

Positive summer activities is exactly what Tina Starling had in mind when she began Chipley Rocks after being part of the activity in Okaloosa and Walton Counties.

"It actually started out in Chipley as a way to get my Sunday School class at Grace & Glory Church outside and doing an activity," she said. "The community has just gone crazy over it, and even those passing through are picking up rocks and posting them. A lady who stopped at a Chipley gas station on her way to New Orleans found a Chipley rock and posted that she was re-hiding it in New Orleans. Others have brought rocks from other places as well. We recently found one from Jacksonville."

Dawn Burke, founder of Washington Co. Rocks, possibly holds the current record for the rock that has traveled the furthest distance to the area, having hidden one in Vernon that she picked up in Kentucky. Burke and her family were also possibly ahead of their time with their own rock tradition.

"Several members of our family visit Tennessee, and for years, we have been hiding rocks for each other to be found when we are there," said Burke. "We weren't painting them, but we would write messages and give each other clues as to where to find them."

The new version of rocking is also becoming a family tradition for Esto "rocker" Shawna Powell, who says her family was drawn to the movement as a constructive and creative way to stay busy this summer.

"We quickly discovered that it means more to us," said Powell. "We enjoy all parts of it. Painting, decorating, and thinking up fun new designs is a great way for us all the bond at the table in the evening. We laugh, joke, and encourage each other."

"Placing the rocks in our community is a fun active activity for the kids," she continues. "We leave rocks everywhere we visit, as well as make special trips around Esto and other local communities to place our rocks. The kids describe it as 'an Easter egg hunt'. We don't always see our rocks posted on Facebook as found, but when we do, their hearts swell with pride and joy. It has been a great project to not only keep the kids active, but to give back to the community if only in this small way. We hope that this movement is only getting started and will be here for years to come."

Tina Starling agrees that there is no denying the way the activity has drawn the community a little closer.

"It is bringing people together," she said. "Some people may say 'it's just a rock', but I say it is a treasure."