The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word cairn, from the Scottish Gaelic for stone man, can conjure up images of faith and motive, of a spiritual journey. In the backcountry, making cairns is a trend, and it’s easy to understand why people feel attracted to these cute little piles of flat stones which are positioned like child’s building blocks. With shoulders aching and black flies buzzing in ears, hikers will examine the stones around her and attempt to select one that has the right balance of flatness and tilt in depth, breadth and width. After a few misses (one too large, another too small) A true skeptic will select the one that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.

But what many people don’t realize is that cairn making can have an adverse environmental impact, particularly when it’s done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the edge of the shores of a lake, river or pond, they disrupt the ecosystem and cause destruction of the microorganisms’ habitats that support the entire food-chain. Additionally these rocks can be transported by erosion to places where they could inflict harm on humans or wildlife.

For these reasons, the practice of cairn making should be avoided in areas that have endangered or rare reptiles, amphibians or mammals or plants and flowers that require the humidity that is locked in the rocks. If you construct an cairn on private property it could be in violation of the laws of the state and federal government that protect the natural resources of the land and could result in fines or even arrest.


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