Rocking the pandemic: Texas nature path becomes a wonderland of tiny stone paintings

November  18, 2020

Chris Penny figures that his mail carrier must have spectacular biceps by now. Most every day for the past seven months, when the carrier arrives at Penny’s home in Grapevine, Texas, he unloads a few heavy bins and hauls them, one by one, up the driveway to Penny’s front porch.

The boxes are filled with packages containing painted rocks—most of them intricate works of art, handmade and mailed from people all over the country, The Washington Post reports.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, people have been sending them to Penny so that he and his family can place them along the Parr Park Rock Art Traila mile-long public walking path that has become a wonderland of more than 4,000 art rocks.

“These aren’t just any rocks;

Above, a wagon loaded with new rocks to be displayed along the rock trail. (Photo source Chris Penny)

they’re works of art,” said Penny, 44. “The other day, I had 11 big boxes to unpack in my living room. It’s incredible to see that people from all over are now painting rocks to turn my community into a trail of happiness.”

The rocks—painted to resemble everything from the Beatles to Mickey Mouse to a face mask—started arriving at Penny’s house ever since he bought a bunch on eBay after noticing a dozen painted rocks scattered along a nature trail in Parr Park. Penny said he knew right away that he wanted to flood the trail with them and make it a destination.

Penny learned that the colorful rocks he’d stumbled upon were painted by Ron Olsen and his three grown children in March, after Olsen returned from a trip to Iceland and discovered that Grapevine, a city of around 46,000 people, had practically become a ghost town due to the nationwide coronavirus shutdown.

Olsen said he wanted to do something for the community, so he gathered his family together on March 28 to paint a few rocks—including one covered with blue bonnet flowers and another decorated with balloons—and scatter them along his favorite trail in Parr Park.

Soon, he and Penny decided to join forces to transform the trail into an artsy attraction for anyone in Grapevine and beyond who wanted to escape the stress of COVID-19 for a while.

“We wanted to make it a getaway for people and give parents something safe to do outdoors with their children,” Olsen, 62, who works in Grapevine as a photographer and RV dealer, told the Post.

“Anyone can paint a rock,” he said. “And if you put hundreds and hundreds of them together, it really adds up to something amazing.”

Penny, who runs the nonprofit Broken Crayon, focused on helping women and children living in poverty in the United States and Ghana, said the project has provided his family with something fun and positive to do close to home during the pandemic.

In the early days in March, after he’d painted several dozen rocks with his daughters and bought dozens more online, Penny posted on Facebook, asking anyone who would like to contribute to the project to mail him their rocks and he’d pay for the shipping.

“I thought that a few people might want to pitch in, but I was stunned when I went to get my mail one day and found tons of rocks on the porch,” he said. “Pretty soon, we were the talk of the post office.”

For Lissa Critz, who visits the park regularly with her two children, told the post that the rock trail has provided some much-needed diversion from home schooling in Grapevine.

“It’s become like a game when we go to the park to locate all of the new rocks,” said Critz, 41. “The rocks are so well done and so much time and care has been put into the project. We love it.”

There are sections devoted to wildlife, teachers, health-care heroes, firefighters, Disney princesses, patriotism, movie stars, video games and travel, said Olsen, who visits the trail several days a week to photograph all of the new rocks and post them on the park’s Facebook page.

“Of course, we have a rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame, and we also have a dog park,” said Olsen, adding that they have cat rocks but they haven’t yet made a “cat park.”

“I guess we’d better get busy on that,” he added.

 

Research contact: @washingtonpost

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