The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word”cairn” originates from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It is a symbol 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 which are positioned like child’s building blocks. With shoulders aching and black flies buzzing in ears, hikers will look over the stones in front of her, and then try to select one that is just the right balance of flatness and tilt in depth, breadth and width. After a few close-calls (one too big, one too small) The solitary will pick the stone that fits perfectly into place. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.

Many people are unaware that cairn building can create negative environmental impacts, especially when done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shore of a pond or lake, it degrades the ecosystem and destroys the habitat for microorganisms that support the entire food chain. In addition these rocks can be transported by erosion to places in which they could cause harm to wildlife or humans.

To avoid this, the practice of building cairns should be avoided in areas that have endangered or rare reptiles, amphibians, or mammals or plants and flowers that require the moisture that is held in the rocks. If you build a rock cairn in private land, it could be in violation of federal and state regulations protecting the natural resources of the land. This could result in fines and even arrest.

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