Jerry Bruce Jr. was visiting Columbus, Ga., with his wife and children in March when they found their first painted rock.

After a little research, Bruce solved the mystery. People were painting these rocks and hiding them all over town.

“It’s like an Easter egg hunt,” Bruce said. “It’s all about putting a smile on someone’s face and spreading a little happiness.”

Bruce’s wife decided to take the rock back with them to Oxford to launch Oxford’s Painted Rocks, a community group that paints rocks and hides them in the Oxford area for people to find.

“We didn’t realize there was already a painted rock group in Oxford,” Bruce said. “There was Oxford Rocks, Jacksonville Rocks, Piedmont Rocks and Alexandria Rocks.”

Painted Rocks groups have sprung up across the United States. Oxford’s Painted Rocks has had visitors from as far away as New York take a painted rock home to start their own group.

Bruce said the Facebook group his wife started now has about 1,600 members, most of whom are painting, hiding and finding rocks.

The number of rocks being hidden has prompted the Anniston Museum of Natural History to speak out.

“Although we think this new fad is great, we ask that you do not leave them inside our exhibit halls,” the museum posted on its Facebook page.

Bruce said it is important for people to be respectful when hiding rocks. He said if a business does not want rocks hidden on its property, don’t do it.

Bruce said he has received comments from Oxford residents who say that hunting painted rocks is a good family activity. He said looking for painting rocks gets people away from their phones and screens.

Starting a painted rock hobby with your family is easy and inexpensive, Bruce said. He said all you need is rocks and paint.

“Go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and get a bag of those round river rocks,” Bruce said. “Then go to Walmart and pick up some acrylic craft paint.”

    Oxford Police Captain L.G. Owens said people looking for, or hiding, painted rocks should stay in public areas.

    “I don’t know much about it,” Owens said about the painted rocks groups. “I’m honestly glad for that. Usually when I know a lot about something, it’s a bad thing to know about.”

    Owens said most of his knowledge of painted rocks comes from a fellow police officer who has looked for rocks with his son.

    “It’s my understanding this is mainly being done by stay-at-home moms with kids or parents with kids,” Owens said. “I’m glad to see people are finding good, clean fun.”

    Owens said the Oxford Police Department has not had any trouble with painted rocks groups, and he doesn’t expect there will be any. He said the most important thing is for people to use common sense.

    “Watch for traffic and make sure you’re not going into any construction or hazardous areas,” Owens said. “If a property owner asks you to leave, abide by their wishes.”

    Bruce said Oxford’s Painted Rocks has partnered with Randy Young and Anita Ambrister, founders of ArtWorks Alliance in Oxford. Bruce said his idea for painted rocks is similar to Young’s and Ambrister’s idea for their group.

    “We’re bringing the fun of art and community to everyone,” Bruce said. “Everyone is an artist.”