BARNEGAT, NJ – The idea that someone, somewhere, or something rocks implies greatness. However, the fact that Barnegat rocks represents something even more literal.
A colorful assortment of painted stones flocks the entrance to the stairs leading to Barnegat’s Municipal Dock. Some are cleverly decorated with messages of kindness, peace, and love. The ones closest to the Dockmaster’s shack are grouped together as a memorial.
According to Bob Symanski, one of the Municipal Dock’s four dockmasters, the collection started after the dock’s reconstruction after Superstorm Sandy washed it away.
“A woman came and placed the first painted rock,” he said. “I don’t know who she was.”
“It was pure chance that the idea caught on,” continued Symanski. Meanwhile, the idea that Barnegat rocks started in other areas of town for a different reason.
In 2016, a Barnegat fifth grade teacher said she was inspired by a Kindness Rocks Project in the Catskills. She created the hashtag #BarnegatRocksKindness and worked with her students to hide nineteen rocks around town.
The concept took on a life of its own. By the following year, another group hid more than fifty painted rocks along the Barnegat Trail. In 2018, the numbers increased again. People had so much fun finding the decorated stones that they relocated them for someone else to come upon them.
At the docks, the mystery remains as far as not only who laid down the first stone – but also which one was the original. “Some people come here just to see the rocks,” said Symanski.
"We encourage them to take one and create something with an idea of their own,” he continued. “We suggest they use exterior paint and return their rock anywhere along with the others.”
Some of the more detailed rocks are kept inside the Dockmaster’s Shack. That's because, along the years, some have gone missing from outside. “Kids sometimes pick them up and throw them in the bay,” Symanski shared.
It’s almost part of a ritual for the dockmasters to check the boat ramps for painted rocks. “We look to see if they’re any in the water and bring them in,” said Symanski.
In the meantime, it’s not just painted rocks that disappear from the dock area. Someone once loaded up their SUV with some of the unpainted rocks. The volume was enough to weigh down their vehicle.
Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at email@example.com.