The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

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The word”cairn” originates from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It can conjure images of faith, purpose and a spiritual journey. Cairn construction is a popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to see why people are drawn by these small piles of flat stones that can be stacked as if they were blocks for children. A hiker with aching shoulders and black insects buzzing around her ears will try to pick a stone that has the right mix of flatness width, tilt, and depth. After a few missed opportunities (one too large, another too small) The solitary will pick the stone that is perfectly positioned. The second layer of the Cairn is completed.

But what people do not realize is that cairn-making can have an adverse environmental impact, especially when it is done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the edges of a river, pond or lake, it disturbs the ecosystem and destroys the habitat of microorganisms that support the entire food chain. In addition these rocks can be carried away by erosion to places where they could inflict harm on humans or wildlife.

Cairns should not be built in areas that contain rare or endangered reptiles, mammals amphibians, reptiles, or flowers or where the water is buried beneath the rocks. If you build a stone cairn on private land, it could be in violation of federal and state laws protecting the natural resources of the land and cause fines or even arrest.

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