The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making
Cairns, the word that comes from the Scottish Gaelic for stone man can bring up images of faith and purpose, of spiritual journeys. Cairn construction is a popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to understand why people are drawn to these tiny piles of flat stones that are stacked like blocks for children. A hiker who is suffering from aching shoulders and black fly flies buzzing in her ears will attempt to choose a rock that is the perfect combination of flatness wide, tilt, width, and depth. After a few near-misses (one too big, one too small) An experienced person will select the one that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.
Many people are unaware that cairn building can create negative environmental impacts, especially when done near water sources. When rock is removed from the edge of a pond or lake, it degrades the ecosystem and destroys the habitat of microorganisms that feed the food chain. They can also be swept away from the edges of a pond, river or lake by erosion, and end up in places where they could inflict harm on humans or wildlife.
Cairns should not be constructed in areas that contain rare or endangered reptiles, mammals amphibians, plants, or other species or in areas where the moisture is locked under the rocks. If you build a rock cairn on private land, it could be in violation of federal and state laws protecting the natural resources of the land and result in fines and even arrest.