The Environmental Impact of Cairn Making

The word “cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic for stone man can bring up images of faith and motivation, of an enlightened 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 children’s blocks. A hiker who is suffering from aching shoulders and black insects buzzing around her ears will attempt to choose a rock that is the perfect combination of flatness, tilt, width and depth. After a few missed opportunities (one too large, another too small) The solitary will select the stone which is perfect to fit. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.

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

This is why the practice of making cairns should be avoided in areas that have endangered or rare reptiles, amphibians, or mammals or plants and flowers that require moisture that is held in the rocks. And if you build the cairn on private property the land could be in violation of the federal and state laws protecting the land’s natural resources. This may result in fines or even a detention.