The word”cairn” comes from the Scottish Gaelic meaning stone man. It may conjure images of purpose, faith, and a spiritual journey. Cairn construction is a popular activity in the backcountry. It’s easy to see why people are drawn to these little piles of flat stones that can be stacked like blocks for children. A hiker who is suffering from aching shoulders and black insects buzzing around her ears will attempt to choose a rock that has the perfect mix of flatness wide, tilt, width, and depth. After a few missed opportunities (one too bulgy, one too small) A true skeptic will choose the stone that is perfectly positioned. The second layer of the Cairn is now completed.
However, what a lot of people don’t know is that cairns can have an adverse environmental impact, particularly when it’s done near water sources. When rocks are removed from the shores of an ocean, a lake or pond, they alter the ecosystem and degrade the habitat for microorganisms which help to support the entire food chain. They can also be carried away from the edges of a pond, river or lake due to erosion. They can end up in areas where they may harm wildlife or humans.
Cairns should not be built in areas that contain rare or endangered mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or flowers or where the water is trapped beneath the rocks. If you build a stone cairn on private land, it could violate federal and state laws that protect the natural resources of the land. This could cause fines or even arrest.