The word”cairn” is derived from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It can conjure images of purpose, faith, and the spiritual journey. Cairn building is a very popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to understand why people are drawn to these little piles of flat stones, which are arranged as if they were blocks for children. A hiker with sore shoulders and black flies buzzing around her ears will attempt to select a stone that is the perfect combination of flatness, tilt, width and depth. After a few close calls (one that’s too big or too small) The solitary will select one that’s perfectly in place, and the subsequent layer of the cairn is complete.
What many don’t realize is that cairn making can have an adverse environmental impact, particularly when it is done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shore of a pond or lake, it degrades the ecosystem and ruins the habitat of microorganisms which support the entire food chain. The rocks could also be carried away from the edge of a river, pond or lake through erosion and end up in places in which they could harm wildlife or humans.
Cairn building should be avoided in areas with rare or endangered reptiles, mammals amphibians, reptiles, or flowers, or where the moisture is trapped beneath the rocks. If you construct the cairn on private property the land could be in violation of state and federal regulations protecting the land’s natural resources. This could result in fines or even arrest.