What do rock stacks have to do with Leave No Trace? Apparently, a lot. More scientists, conversationists, and park rangers are requesting that folks stop rock stacking when they're out and about on the trail. Why's it a big deal? Is it actually a big deal?
Where the heck does rock stacking even come from? Well, according to my Cairn Terriers, Lucy and Charlie, rock stacks aren't real "Cairns," which are dedicated memorials or landmarks. These rock stacks that are cropping up throughout the wild woods are done more for artistic or "fun" reasons. Sometimes, for meditation - and the popularity of them may have sprung up from a 1987 new age movement called the Harmonic Convergence.
I belong to a number of hiking groups on FB (imagine that) - and I've seen this topic crop up a number of times recently. And it's always incredibly and unnecessarily tense. The counter-arguments usually focus on how extreme it is to target things like rock stacks as part of Leave No Trace, and if the environment survives hikers, kayakers, etc. it can survive a couple of rocks stacked up.
It isn't always just one or two rocks - many beaches in the Northwest and other areas are completely covered with rocks stacks and a lot of them. (Please click links for slideshow pic credits).
Parks have specific guidelines, as well as the Leave No Trace Principles, that help to curtail the impact humans have in those areas. It's important to abide by them, even if they don't make sense at the moment. Like the rock stacks, or staying on the path.
Moving rocks can impact the natural habitat for those critters that call it home. It can disrupt waterways. It affects game trails. When you move a rock, you might also be unknowingly moving critters, fungus, bacteria, seeds, etc. to another area that didn't have those types before. For example, someone on Insta gathered rocks from five different state parks they visited and in the final one made a rock stack. Cool idea, except they most likely brought in seeds, etc. from other states that may not have been present.
Also, safety, first! A lot of National Parks and hiking areas use stacked rocks (actual cairns) to mark paths - such as Dolly Sods in P.A. Hikers can easily get lost when you start adding your own directional markers.
Rock stacks can be beautiful - they really are art - and made of "natural" bits, so it's easy to forget that just because it's pretty, doesn't mean it doesn't have a negative effect. And that when you're in the great wild, that it doesn't belong to you - it isn't your backyard. You're a steward of the land you visit. So remember, leave it how you found it or with as little impact as possible.
Leave No Trace isn't about doing it perfectly - and I'll say this again and again and again. But it is about learning, growing, and doing what you can when you can.
What do you think about rock stacking? Leave a comment below or contact me here.