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Cairns, the word that comes from the Scottish Gaelic for stone man is a symbol of faith and purpose, of the spiritual journey. In the backcountry, cairn making is something of a fad, and it’s easy to understand why people feel attracted to these adorable stones that are balanced like child’s building blocks. A hiker who is suffering from aching shoulders and black fly flies buzzing in her ears will try to select a stone that is the perfect combination of flatness, tilt, width and depth. After a few close-calls (one too big, one too small) An experienced person will select the stone that is perfectly positioned. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.
But what people do not realize is that cairn making can have a negative environmental impact, especially when it is done near water sources. When rock is removed from the edges of a pond or lake, it disturbs the ecosystem and degrades the habitat of microorganisms that are essential to the food chain. Additionally that, these rocks can be carried away through erosion to areas where they could harm wildlife or humans.
In light of this, the practice of constructing cairns is not recommended in areas where there are rare or endangered reptiles, amphibians, or mammals or plants and flowers that require the humidity that is locked in the rocks. If you build a rock cairn on private land, it could violate federal and state regulations protecting the natural resources of the land. This could cause fines or even arrest.