The word”cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It can invoke images of faith, purpose and a spiritual journey. In the backcountry, cairn making is a trend, and it’s easy to see why people are attracted by these sweet little stacks of flat rocks that are balanced like child’s building blocks. A hiker who is suffering from aching shoulders and black insects buzzing around her ears will try to pick a stone that has the right mix of flatness wide, tilt, width, and depth. After a few close-calls (one too large, another too small) An experienced person will select the one that is perfect for the spot it’s placed. The second layer of the Cairn is completed.

But what many 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 edges of a pond or lake, it disturbs the ecosystem and ruins the habitat of microorganisms which support the entire food chain. These rocks can also be carried away from the edge of a river, pond or lake through erosion and end up in areas where they may harm humans or wildlife.

Cairns should not be built in areas that contain rare or endangered reptiles, mammals amphibians, flowers, or reptiles or where the water is buried beneath the rocks. If you build a rock cairn on private land it could be in violation of federal or state laws protecting the natural assets of the land. This could result in fines or even arrest.