The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

Cairn, which is the Scottish Gaelic for stone man can bring up images of faith and motive, of spiritual journeys. Cairn building is a popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to comprehend why people are drawn to these little piles of flat stones that are stacked as if they were blocks for children. A hiker with sore shoulders and black insects buzzing around her ears will attempt to find a stone with the perfect blend of flatness, tilt, width and depth. After a few near-misses (one too bulgy, one too small) An experienced person will pick the stone that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is complete.

However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that cairn building can have a negative environmental impact, particularly when it’s done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shores of an ocean, a lake or pond, they can disrupt the ecosystem and degrade the habitat for microorganisms which provide the food chain. Additionally that, these rocks can be carried away due to erosion and transported to places where they could inflict harm on humans or wildlife.

In light of this, the practice of making cairns should be discouraged in areas with rare or endangered reptiles, amphibians or mammals or plants and flowers that require moisture locked under the rocks. If you construct a rock cairn on private property, it could be in violation of federal and state laws that protect the natural resources of the land and cause fines or even arrest.

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