Select Page

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, making cairns is a popular pastime and it’s simple to understand why people are attracted to these cute little stones which are positioned like child’s building blocks. With shoulders aching and black flies buzzing around ears, a hiker will survey the stones before her, and then try to select one that is just the right mix of flatness and tilt, breadth and depth. After a few close calls (one that’s too wide or too small) the shrewd will choose the one that’s set perfectly in place, and the second layer of the cairn becomes complete.

Many people don’t realize that cairn building can have a negative environmental impact particularly near water sources. When rock is removed from the edge of a river, pond or lake, it dishevels the ecosystem and destroys the habitat of microorganisms that are essential to the food chain. Additionally the rocks could be carried away due to erosion and transported to places where they could inflict harm on humans or wildlife.

In light of this, the practice of building cairns should be discouraged in areas with rare or endangered reptiles, amphibians, mammals or plants and flowers that need water that is trapped under the rocks. If you build your cairn in private land it could be in violation of the laws of the state and federal government that protect the natural resources of the land. It could result in fines or even a detention.