The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word »cairn » is derived from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It may conjure images of faith, purpose and a spiritual journey. In the backcountry, making cairns is a trend, and it’s easy to understand why people feel attracted to these adorable piles of flat stones that are balanced like child’s building blocks. With shoulders hurting and flies that are black buzzing in ears, hikers will look over the stones in front of her and try to pick one with the right mix of flatness and tilt along with depth and breadth. After a few close misses (one that’s too large, another that’s too small) The solitary will choose the one that’s perfectly in place, and the second layer of the cairn becomes complete.

What many don’t know is that cairns can have a negative environmental impact, especially when it is done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shores of an ocean, a lake or pond, they disrupt the ecosystem and degrade the microorganisms’ habitats that are the backbone of the food chain. Additionally, these rocks may be carried away by erosion to locations that could pose a threat to humans or wildlife.

Cairn building should be avoided in areas with rare or endangered mammals, reptiles amphibians, reptiles, or flowers or in areas where the moisture is trapped beneath the rocks. If you build a rock cairn on private land this may violate federal and state laws that protect the natural resources of the land and result in fines or even arrest.

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