Please Don’t Stack Rocks

“Cairns,” Gaelic for “heap of stones” seems to be the new creek art. Surely when you’ve been out on a streamside hike in recent years you’ve noticed a pile or two of someone’s creative intrusion.

These temporary natural installations may be an expression of patience and balance to the ego of the builder, but to some naturalists who practice “Leave No Trace” ethics, it is often seen as nothing more than evidence left behind that the environment was disturbed by a human intrusion, natural graffiti, and vandalism of habitat. These disturbances and geological games of Jenga leave behind more than just footprints, and can be potentially damaging to the life cycles of organisms connected to the river rock.

Beyond the visual disturbance of natural environments, each rock in a stream is blooming with life. Everything from aquatic plants to micro-organisms are attached to those rocks. They also create habitat for crustaceans and nymphs. Crevices in the rocks hold eggs from trout or salmon to be fertilized, supporting those eggs until they grow into fry and begin feeding off the very critters that were hatching off of and crawling around those same rocks.

You could be lifting the roof off the home of a crawfish, or disturbing the cradle for the future generations of already dwindling hellbender havens. Removing rocks from fragile stream habitats is essentially the equivalent to removing bricks from someone else’s home while raiding their refrigerator and food pantry.

The mentality of “just one won’t hurt anything” takes away from the fact this growing trend has become a problem for national parks where millions of visitors frequent each year. Please don’t do this. Yes it looks cool, but why do you get to decide what the scenery should look like? Leave that to Mother Nature.

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