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 an experience of spirituality. 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 that are stacked like blocks for children. With shoulders hurting and black flies buzzing around ears, a hiker will survey the stones before her and attempt to select one that has just the right amount of flatness and tilt in depth, breadth and width. After a few misses (one too large, another too small) The solitary will select the stone that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is now complete.

Many people are unaware that cairns can cause environmental harm particularly when it is constructed near water sources. When rocks are removed from the edges of a pond or lake, it erodes the ecosystem and destroys the habitat of microorganisms that feed the food chain. The rocks could also be carried away from the edge of a pond or lake by erosion and end up in places that could pose a threat to wildlife or humans.

Cairns should not be built in areas that contain rare or endangered mammals, reptiles amphibians, plants, or other species or where the water is trapped beneath the rocks. And if you build a cairn on private land it could violate the federal and state laws protecting the natural resources of the land. It could result in fines, or even arrest.

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