Girl Returns Rock to National Park and Earns Rangers' Sweet Shout-Out

Rangers at received this letter. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

If you haven't done it, maybe you've thought about it. You had such an amazing time at some wonderful park that you slipped a little stone into your pocket so you could remember your trip forever.

That's what a young parkgoer named Karina did when she visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But on returning home, the pilfered stone weighed heavily on the young vacationer's conscience, so she sent it back to the park along with an apologetic note.

Rangers from the park shared Karina's letter in a Facebook post.

"Dear Park Ranger, Deep Creek was awesome! I especially liked Tom Branch Falls," the letter says. "I loved it so much I wanted to have a souvenir to come home with me, so I took a rock. I'm sorry, and I want to return it."

Along with the letter and the heart-shaped rock, Karina drew a picture of the falls and included a donation.

Becoming 'an amazing steward'

A ranger holds the returned rock in front of Tom Branch Falls.
A ranger holds the returned rock in front of Tom Branch Falls. Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The rangers thanked Karina for returning the rock, told her it had made its way back to Tom Branch Falls, and told her she was becoming "an amazing steward" for the park.

They also took the opportunity to gently educate visitors about why it's so important to leave things as you find them in nature.

"Thank you for recognizing that what is in the park should stay in the park. If every visitor took a rock home, that would mean 11 million rocks would be gone from the park every year! The park would definitely not be as beautiful as it was before," they wrote.

"Rocks in the Smokies also provide homes for hundreds of creatures, including salamanders! By leaving rocks where they are, we're helping protect these special homes as well as the beauty of the park."

According to the National Park Service's website, the Great Smoky Mountains are known as the "Salamander Capital of the World." There are five families of salamanders and 24 species of lungless salamanders in the park.

In another post, rangers point out that the streams in the parks are home to a giant salamander called the hellbender that can grow as big as two feet long.

"Right now, male hellbenders are creating nests under rocks in the streams where females will come to lay their eggs. After eggs are laid, males will guard their nests and rock back and forth to keep water moving around the eggs until they hatch in about 2 months. During this time, any disruption to nests or the stream rocks that protect them can prevent the eggs from hatching. Thank you for not moving rocks in the streams and protecting these unique amphibians."