Natural Graffiti

One man’s art is another man’s nuisance

Stone cairns

If you’ve been out on a hiking trail lately, you've probably noticed them suddenly popping up everywhere—small, intentionally stacked piles of rocks. They're called cairns.

Environmentalists worldwide are increasingly alarmed. Because moving rocks can have numerous unintended consequences for the landscape. It's tempting to create your own and leave your mark, but according to National Geographic, that's not a good idea: misplaced rock stacks can endanger fragile ecosystems; or, if stones are pried loose for cairn-making, promote erosion

Even more dangerous, they can get people lost in our National Parks. On particularly confusing trails and paths, park officials began creating cairns as trail markers to help ensure hikers don't get off track. But these unofficial cairns are leading some hikers astray.

“Moving, stacking, or making shapes out of rocks is a form of vandalism and will impact every visitor who comes after,” one park official told U.S. News & World Report, asking visitors to “respect these sacred landscapes.”

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Let your actions be guided by what we were told growing up in the Boy Scouts: Leave no trace.

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