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The word “cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic for stone man is a symbol of faith and the purpose of a spiritual journey. Cairn construction is a popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to comprehend why people are drawn to these small piles of flat stones that are stacked as if they were blocks for children. With shoulders aching and black flies buzzing around ears, hikers will survey the stones before her and try to choose one with the right mix of flatness and tilt as well as breadth and depth. After a few close misses (one that’s too big and Great Barrier Reef another that’s too small) the truest will select one that is perfectly set in place, and the second layer of the cairn will be complete.

Many people don’t realize that cairn building can cause environmental harm particularly near water sources. When rocks are removed from the edge of a pond or lake, it disturbs the ecosystem and ruins the habitat of microorganisms which support the entire food chain. In addition, these rocks may be carried away through erosion to areas in which they could cause harm to wildlife or humans.

To avoid this, the practice of constructing cairns should be discouraged in areas where there are rare or endangered mammals, amphibians or reptiles or plants and flowers that require moisture that is held in the rocks. And if you build an cairn on private property, it may violate the federal and state laws protecting the land’s natural resources and could result in fines or even arrest.