Art and nature go hand in hand like columbine flowers and a hummingbird’s tongue.
Indigenous artists express their relationship with the land through art; Canada’s Group of Seven found inspiration in several Ontario parks; The parks offer residency programs and visitors to our parks find many artistic ways to capture their memories. We love when visitors share their artistic creations with us.
However, a new trend is starting to cause problems throughout the province: painted rock.
We love creativity
In many ways, painted rocks are an expansion of the long tradition of art inspired by nature.
Not only do they often feature designs inspired by nature, but they also use a natural object as a canvas. These rocks are often left or hidden where others will find them as a way to spread kindness to strangers.
These are all wonderful things, but…
With all the current threats to Ontario’s wildlife, including litter, invasive species, habitat loss and climate change, painted rocks can seem like small potatoes. Why do we need a whole blog post about them?
Unfortunately, many paints are essentially a plastic coating. Leaving painted rocks in parks adds another source of microplastics that our ecosystems can absorb. Park staff are also noticing an increasing number of these colorful rocks, and while we appreciate the artists’ intent, our priority is maintaining the ecological integrity of our shared protected spaces.
While we know that many rock artists are responsible and use environmentally friendly paint, our park managers have no way of knowing whether a given rock is a friend or foe to wildlife.
Even one responsibly painted rock can inspire a bunch of irresponsibly painted rocks.
Plus, not everyone comes to the parks for the same reasons. A pile of brightly painted rocks may make one hiker smile, 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 the wildness of a place.
Protect the wildlife that inspires you
It may seem like we have an endless supply of pebbles, but nature doesn’t run out of rocks in our parks. Wind, waves and ice continue to sculpt them into ever-changing shapes.
They are slowly turning into dust, making their component minerals available for plants to grow, insects to jump, birds to sing, deer to roam, and wolves to howl.
These nutrients will travel up the food chain only a few times before nature needs more of the rock dust. That 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 can still bring stones from home and paint them inspired by the nature that surrounds your camp.
But when you’re done, be sure to take your painted stones home or give them as a gift, whether to a special loved one or anyone who needs them to brighten their day.
It can be your way of bringing the joy of nature beyond the boundaries of your favorite park.