LINCOLN, Neb. | Stacey Lovewell's 2-year-old granddaughter spotted the rock first, as she climbed inside one of the giant Os that spell out "ZOO" along Capitol Parkway, near the Lincoln Children's Zoo.
The small stone was painted purple, with a picture of a tree and the name of a Facebook group on the back: "SE Nebraska Rocks."
"Oh, my gosh, this is so cool," Lovewell remembers thinking.
She had stumbled upon a national trend that started two years ago with a woman in Massachusetts and only recently took root in the Midwest.
In the past six months, thousands of Nebraskans have joined Facebook groups dedicated to painting and hiding rocks.
Thousands of Nebraska residents have joined Facebook groups in the past six months dedicated to painting and hiding rocks. They cover the stones with colorful images or inspiring messages and hide them at parks or outside stores for strangers to find them.
"Hopefully it brings a smile to their face and a little bright spot to their day," Lovewell says.
But the craze isn't catching on with parks officials in Nebraska.
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission officials have asked visitors to refrain from hiding painted rocks in state parks and recreation areas, saying it violates a regulation against disturbing the natural landscape.
State parks administrator Jim Swenson said in a statement that for many visitors, encountering painted rocks "diminishes the land's beauty and the experience of being in nature."
Other state and national parks across the U.S. have asked guests not to hide painted rocks, commission officials said.
Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department rules adopted in 2004 prohibit people from burying geocaches — hidden items intended to be found by others using GPS — at city parks or from placing them anywhere at Pioneers Park Nature Center, Sunken Gardens or Hamann Rose Garden at Antelope Park.
The same rules apply to painted rocks, said Kat Scholl, spokeswoman for the parks department. She said painted rocks could present a safety hazard for park workers and that they can also interfere with sensitive ecosystems and animals.