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The word cairn, from the Scottish Gaelic for stone man, can conjure up images of faith and motivation, of an enlightened journey. In the backcountry, cairn building is a trend and it’s not difficult to understand why people feel attracted to these adorable piles of flat rocks that are balanced as child’s building blocks. A hiker with aching shoulders and black additional hints fly flies buzzing in her ears will attempt to pick a stone that has the perfect mix of flatness, tilt, width and depth. After a few close-calls (one too bulgy, one too small), a purist will choose the stone that fits perfectly into place. The second layer of the Cairn is completed.
However, what a lot of people don’t 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 shore of a pond, river or lake, it erodes the ecosystem and destroys the habitat of microorganisms that are essential to the food chain. Additionally these rocks can be transported due to erosion and transported to places where they could inflict harm on wildlife or humans.
In light of this, the practice of building cairns should be discouraged in areas where there are rare or endangered reptiles, amphibians, or mammals or plants and flowers that need moisture locked under the rocks. If you construct the cairn on private property, it may violate the federal and state laws protecting the land’s natural resources. This could result in fines or even arrest.