This snake is rocky rather than smooth and it delights instead of bitesOct 12, 2023 09:18AM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton
Kelsee Sellers and her children established the rock snake that runs along the abandoned train tracks parallel to the Porter Rockwell Trail. Since it started June 19, the project has grown to more than 2,500 specially-decorated rocks. (Courtesy Kelsee Sellers)
Kelsee Sellers voluntarily devotes hours each week to a labor of love, a “snake” that delights rather than bites. He’s known as Rockwell because he’s made of rocks and he’s right by the Porter Rockwell Trail. He’s snaking his way along the abandoned train tracks, starting near where Draper’s well-known zebra resides, all the way toward Draper Park.
“It’s a nice little way to brighten people’s days,” Kelsee said.
It all began when Kelsee and her daughter Libby, age 3 at the time, were living back East a few years ago. “We were in Virginia during COVID and we found ‘kindness rocks’ in a park. It was really popular during Covid that people would paint rocks and hide them in plain sight. My daughter was overjoyed when she found a spotted rock, then she started painting rocks and hiding them all over. She thought it was the funniest thing when people found them, or sometimes she’d get too excited and randomly hand them to somebody,” Kelsee said.
A couple years ago, the family moved to Draper where Kelsee had grown up, and a baby boy named Lee was born. Libby is now 6 and Lee is 2.
In early June, Kelsee’s mom showed Libby a rock snake that she’d found on Facebook. “Libby thought it was super cool since we’d done the kindness rocks so she said, ‘Let’s do this!’ When my daughter gets an idea in her head, there’s just no stopping her. She’s very determined and very persistent,” Kelsee said.
They began by making the head of the snake along with some signs describing how the project works and inviting others to participate. “Then I got a lot of cardboard and paint and the kids painted 20 rocks on the lawn to start it. They had a heyday painting stuff!”
Kelsee first chose the Porter Rockwell Trail as the best location for her family’s creation. “We just figured the walking path was a popular area where a lot of people would pass and see it, and we’d seen kindness rocks on the path before, so there was a good chance of it being seen and people wanting to add to it.”
Living snakes slither, but rocks are rocky, and this project wasn’t without some bumps along the way. “We drug it down there and put the snake up and my kids were very proud of themselves. We were disappointed at first when half of the rocks were taken, so I made signs that said please add to the snake to make him grow. It just started growing…it took off extremely quickly. We’d go down and count the rocks every day and it was such a fun and exciting thing for (my kids).”
But in July, Rockwell began to “butt heads” with some people at Draper City. Kelsee found a sign from the city indicating the rock snake was a maintenance problem on the path and it would have to be removed. She called Draper’s Parks and Trails Department and explained that she and her mother had been weed-eating the sides of the path to keep it clear for the rock snake to grow.
“They were persistent in saying it’s a fun idea but it’s not a place we can have them,” Kelsee said. Then she emailed the mayor and city councilmembers and heard back from Tasha Lowery. “She said it was a fun idea, but, turns out it’s a free speech issue,” Kelsee said. After that, Channel 2 did a story on the local news which prompted a call from the mayor who said it was a fun idea but a liability.
Kelsee and family had to quickly find a new location before the city dismantled it. “Once it was on the news, between 100-200 people took their rocks when the city said they’d take it down.” Kelsee, her mom, her sister and Libby moved it to the abandoned train tracks, parallel to the Porter Rockwell trail where it had begun. Then, Channel 5 did a story about Rockwell and the snake grew by 50 or more rocks per day.
Since then, the Draper Visual Arts Foundation encouraged Kelsee’s project and suggested she have a booth at a city event where people could paint rocks to add to Rockwell. Rocks are also available at the start of the snake for people to take home, paint, and add to the project.
All “pets” require care, and Rockwell is no exception. Kelsee and her kids visit the rock snake nearly every evening to count the new additions, make new milestone signs as needed, and replace rocks that have been moved or kicked aside. Sometimes rocks are stolen, so Kelsee videos the rock snake weekly. “When kids can’t find the rocks they painted, they get sad. So, if it’s one I can easily replicate, I’ll do that and put it back or fix it.” λ