Officials at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, Texas have banned stacking stones, or cairns, from the park. Texas State Park authorities claim that the stacking stones disturb vital habitats for the park’s various native species. The park let visitors know about this new policy in a recent social media post.
“While we are impressed by your rock stacking abilities, the building of rock cairns is not allowed. Doing so disturbs sensitive and critical wildlife habitats that rely on the rocks for protection.”
According to the National Park Service, some cairns serve a purpose in parks, like providing waypoints for hikers and distinguishing certain areas. Park staff maintain cairns at parks like El Malpais, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Acadia to make sure visitors don’t knock them over and they can still point the way for hikers. Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, however, doesn’t build or maintain cairns. The park warns visitors that any cairns on the trails are simply ornamental and don’t have any significance to the trail.
Dinosaur Valley State Park continued the warning in their social media post. “[Building cairns] is even more serious during times of drought and low water levels just like we are experiencing here at the park,” park officials wrote. “Wildlife are already isolated to specific areas of the river and streams when water levels drop, and the building of rock cairns destroys what habitats are left. This results in those wildlife species moving somewhere else causing a break in the ecosystem.”
The park urged visitors to follow Leave No Trace guidelines by not moving or stacking rocks. “Help protect the river and stream ecosystems by leaving all rocks alone, not building rock cairns, and enjoying your time in the park by following Leave No Trace,” they wrote.
What is the Significance of Rock Cairns?
Historically, rock cairns were used for burial sites, memorials, waypoints for navigation, or to mark ceremonial grounds. Usually, the cairns and locations are culturally significant, and building them may have involved some ceremony.
Therefore, stacking stones just to stack stones is not only environmentally insensitive but possibly culturally as well. Essentially, just don’t stack stones in a National Park, because you don’t know if hikers actually use them for navigation on the trails.
It’s best to follow the guidelines from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, as posted by the National Park Service. First, if a park uses cairns for navigation on the trails, leave them alone. Don’t tamper with authorized cairns. This may result in hikers who depend on the stacking stones getting lost or disoriented. Second, don’t build your own cairns. This disturbs natural habitats, as stated above, and it also results in lost hikers if they follow your random cairn. Third, don’t add to existing cairns. In parks that use cairns, staff carefully designed and maintains these stacking stones. Adding to the pile could collapse the stack and won’t that be embarrassing to explain to the rangers?
Overall, pay attention to which parks use cairns and stacking stones and which ones have outlawed them. Then, you’ll know what to look for when hiking, or what not to do in that particular park.