The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word”cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It may conjure images of faith, purpose and a spiritual journey. Cairn building is a very popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to comprehend why people are drawn to these little piles of flat stones that are stacked like blocks for children. With shoulders hurting and black flies buzzing through ears, hikers will take a look at the stones around her and try to choose one that is just the right mix of tilt and flatness along with depth and breadth. After a few missed opportunities (one too big, one too small), a purist will select the one that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is complete.

Many people don’t realize that cairn building can create negative environmental impacts particularly when it is done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shores of the shores of a lake, river or pond, they disturb the ecosystem and degrade the microorganisms’ habitats that provide the food chain. The rocks could be removed from the edges of a pond, river 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 with rare or endangered mammals, reptiles amphibians, flowers, or reptiles or where the water is locked under the rocks. If you build the cairn on private property it could be in violation of state and federal regulations protecting the natural resources of the land. It may result in fines or even arrest.

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