The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

Cairn, which is the Scottish Gaelic for stone man can bring up images of faith and the purpose of a spiritual journey. Cairn building is a very popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to see why people are drawn to these small piles of flat stones, which are arranged like children’s blocks. With shoulders hurting and black flies buzzing around ears, hikers will look over the stones in front of her and attempt to select one that has just the right amount of tilt and flatness, breadth and depth. After a few close-calls (one too large, another too small) A true skeptic will choose the stone that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is complete.

What many don’t know is that cairns can have a negative environmental impact, especially when done close to water sources. When rocks are removed from the edge of a river, lake or pond, they disturb the ecosystem and cause destruction of the habitat for microorganisms which support the entire food-chain. Additionally that, these rocks can be transported due to erosion and transported to places where they could inflict harm on humans or wildlife.

Cairn building should be avoided in areas that contain rare or endangered reptiles, mammals amphibians, plants, or other species, or where the moisture is locked under the rocks. If you construct a rock cairn in private land, this may violate federal and state laws protecting the natural assets of the land. This could cause fines or even arrest.

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