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The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word»cairn» originates from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It can invoke images of faith, purpose, and a spiritual journey. In the backcountry, cairn building is a popular trend and it’s simple to understand why people are drawn to these sweet little piles of flat rocks which are positioned like child’s building blocks. With shoulders aching and black flies buzzing through ears, hikers will look over the stones in front of her and try to pick one with the right mix of tilt and flatness in depth, breadth and width. After a few near misses (one that’s too big, another that’s too small) The solitary will choose the one that’s perfectly in place, and the next layer of the cairn is complete.

Many people are unaware that cairn building can cause environmental harm particularly when it is constructed near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shores of an ocean, a lake or pond, they disturb the ecosystem and eliminate the microorganisms’ habitats that provide the food chain. These rocks can be swept away from the edge of a river, pond or lake due to erosion. They can end up in areas where they may harm wildlife or humans.

Cairn construction should be avoided in areas that contain rare or endangered mammals, reptiles amphibians, plants, or other species or in areas where the moisture is trapped beneath the rocks. If you build an cairn on private property, it may violate federal and state regulations that protect the land’s natural resources and could result in fines, or even arrest.

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