The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word”cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It can invoke images of faith, purpose, and the spiritual journey. In the backcountry, cairn building is a popular pastime and it’s not difficult to see why people are attracted by these sweet little stones that are balanced as child’s building blocks. With shoulders aching and flies that are black buzzing in ears, hikers will take a look at the stones around her and try to choose one that is just the right balance of flatness and tilt in depth, breadth and width. After a few close misses (one that’s too bulgy, another that’s too small) the truest will pick the one that sets perfectly in place, and the next layer of the cairn becomes complete.

Many people are unaware that cairns can create negative environmental impacts particularly when it find more is constructed near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shores of an ocean, a lake or pond, they alter the ecosystem and degrade the microorganisms’ habitats that support the entire food-chain. The rocks could also be swept away from the edge of a river, pond or lake through erosion and end up in places in which they could harm wildlife or humans.

In light of this, the practice of making cairns should be avoided in areas with rare or endangered mammals, amphibians or reptiles or plants and flowers that require moisture that is held in the rocks. If you build a cairn on private land the land could be in violation of the laws of the state and federal government that protect the natural resources of the land. It may result in fines or even a detention.

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