The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word“cairn“ is derived from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It is a symbol of faith, purpose, and spiritual journeys. Cairn-building is a common activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to understand why people are drawn to these tiny piles of flat stones, which are arranged as if they were blocks for children. A hiker with aching shoulders and black flying flies buzzing her ears will try to find a stone that is the perfect combination of flatness, tilt, width and depth. After a few close-calls (one too large, another too small) An experienced person will pick the stone that fits perfectly into place. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.

Many people are unaware that cairn construction can create negative environmental impacts particularly when it is constructed near water sources. When rocks are removed from the edges of the shores of a lake, river or pond, they disrupt the ecosystem and degrade the microorganisms‘ habitats that are the backbone of the food chain. Additionally the rocks could be transported by erosion to locations in which they could cause harm to wildlife or humans.

To avoid this, the practice of making cairns is not recommended in areas that have rare or endangered reptiles, amphibians, mammals or plants and flowers that need moisture that is held in the rocks. If you build a rock cairn in private land, this may violate federal and state laws protecting the natural resources of the land. It could result in fines and even arrest.

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