Rock stacking - is it OK?

I completely agree. You can reduce your ecological footprint by 0.0001% by not creating a stack of rocks. And you can also reduce your ecological footprint by 15% by switching to a vegan diet (according to Oxford University). I fully support doing both! I just find it ironic which one people get the most upset about!

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I think conflating early humans and what they did with the behaviour of selfie oriented tourists or rave partyists who want to lay a trail to their campsite (happens in the Himalaya) is a bit much. Cairns built on glaciers have been useful tools for navigation but not if they are just random creations - in which case they would be dangerous.

Yes humans do affect nature around them with a lot of their actions - even this digital message being sent – but that does not mean we should avoid or plan to avoid doing things it is possible to change.

oh after typing all this I see that the “man” in question maybe reading this in some other guise.

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the new name is in the bit of my comment you edited out?

@ zygy

gives a nice perspective of how we get our priorities wrong.

I think engendering a consciousness is the first step - but it won’t be enough if we ignore the politics and the main threats.

because there are other threads for other topics. This one = rock stacking


There are no data in these posts that would permit a conclusion about which topic people get most upset about. None. A topic was posted asking a specific question. People responded.

The rule on iNat is Assume people mean well. People talk about a lot of things here, including the things you consider important. A selection of links is below:


Ah. I assumed that was some reference to the actual name on his profile that I wasn’t understanding not a username.

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i think if folks are going to build a lot of cairns or do similar kinds of things, i would rather them do it along a heavily trafficked trail than to do it in a lot of less trafficked areas. in areas that are already heavily disturbed by humans, i would think that the additional negative impact to nature could be outweighed by the positive experience in nature.

it’s hard for me to see these kinds of things in an absolute, binary OK / not OK way. humans are a part of nature, but if you’re going to separate the two, i think the way to look at things is that we need spaces that are primarily for humans, places that are primarily for nature, and places that are in between. so if you’re going to have a human city, it’s probably a good idea to make it as dense as possible so that you can keep humans in as little space as possible, leaving the rest for nature. for humans who want a taste of being out in nature, sure, have parks, but keep people on well-marked trails, and don’t be too upset if people do things that people do along these trails. if, say, 95% of the rest of the park is off trail, undisturbed, then i think that’s a reasonable trade-off.

Why wouldn’t we just teach them instead of letting it happen? Nobody would argue if we were discussing how people gather tons of flowers for no aim but having them dead, sometimes minutes after, but because someone decided rocks are ideal for philosophical stuff it’s now okay. We can’t keep people for trails anyway, it doesn’t happen, they go everywhere they can and nobody cares for rules, because they have no idea what damage they cause and why it’s important, so education should be priority. As said above you can do the same in places already too modificated, made specifically for those rocks.


Sure, up to a point. Regrettably, the same mind-set that sees rules about piling rocks as a petty annoyance tends to see rules generally, including rules about staying on trails and staying out of the backcountry, as a petty annoyance - unless, of course, they are rules regulating things they don’t like. If people treat the nature they are keen to experience with awareness and respect your parsing of the landscape works fine. The problem is that a very large subset of that group also sees acting with awareness and respect as a petty annoyance.

One of the issues with the behaviour is that it breeds imitators. There are places where the density of faux Inuksuks has become a bad joke, in addition to being a blight on the landscape.


i’m not saying that you should just let anything happen anywhere, but i think from a policing perspective, it’s more effective / simpler to have the “police” worry about (broad) human impacts off trail rather than to regulate and police every possible infraction along a trail, which is already a disturbed space.

and i’m not opposed to teaching some folks about the impacts of rock collection, but teaching people to love nature happens a little at a time. you can tell someone that moving a rock may destroy the habitat for a particular lizard, and some people might immediately get it, but a lot of people will take time (and many positive experiences in nature) to get to a point where they will care, and some people may never get there.

if you’re ever going to have a chance of converting folks into people who care – at scale – you have to have outlets to introduce people to nature in ways that they are comfortable with. for some people, that might mean having a space where (among other things) they can make cairns and take selfies “in nature”. as long as that sort of space is well-defined and appropriately located (maybe even with educational signage nearby), then, to me, that’s not a terrible thing.

at the end of the day, i don’t think we’re disagreeing much. i’m just saying that we need to be able to see where gray might be appropriate, not just black or white.


I get your point, but imo there’re better way to make people engage in nature, I see how boards with information always attract people, maybe games that could be played at it, at one specific place, or even having a spot for that rock stacking that was prepared for it by removing living things.

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This really should not be compared to the “well be vegetarian, reduce your carbon footprint, recycle” sort of mindset.

The point here is that moving rocks is a negative disturbance to localized organisms that rely on the shelter and long-term microhabitats under them. This is why if you are flipping rocks or logs for invertebrates, fungi or reptiles, it’s morally expected that you return them back as opposed to leaving them toppled over. Soil moisture, algae, fungi and microscopic communities thrive under rocks that remain in place for long periods of time (months, years). They act a lot like old-growth forest in a sense where they require remaining in place over many seasons before they can start providing thriving benefits to organisms. And shifting these rocks destroys and dries out those niches that took months or years to build, and renders them unusable for the organisms in question. You can’t just pick up that rock and put it back anywhere and pat yourself on the back, because that localized habitat spot formed specifically under said rock is threatened by being exposed.

I don’t think that sort of impact is understood by many of the contributors here. The numerical “percent” of damage on the total scale is not the real point. Rock stacking is negatively influencing available habitat and it should be treated as habitat fragmentation, habitat loss, and harmful for those communities. I’ve seen places where you can’t find the locally endemic species anymore because all the right-sized rocks have been stacked and those former spots have now dried up as a result. And that’s not okay, especially in California which is already really struggling with drought conditions.

Cairns have been a part of human history for goodness knows how long. But stacking random rocks at a viewpoint or somewhere scenic for the sake of it should not be treated like it’s ok, just because it was done responsibly in the past.


So the cairns can be used as trail markers to keep hikers on trail in places where it might be possible to lose the trail? (Am I reading the argument here correctly? I am unfamiliar with the practice.) I would understand the use of the stones in that case. Lost hikers can die horrible deaths. However, I’ve seen plenty of stones stacked in White Clay Creek State Park where they are definitely not serving that purpose. I would suggest we don’t need those rock piles. I can appreciate the artistry involved in some of the stone stacking (some are mini-works of art), but I agree they damage the environment. Are they the most damaging activity in park? No, definitely not. But, why add more damage unnecessarily?


I don’t really think the “Yet you participate in society!” argument works here, personally. Reducing your impact on the environment and leaving as little trace as possible, in whatever way possible no matter how small is what counts imo.


Maybe it’s a matter of what “other people” do vs. what oneself does.

It could be turned around, couldn’t it? If personally recycling or taking shorter showers doesn’t make much difference, does personally refraining from stacking rocks make much difference? Or if you are going to do political action, which makes a bigger difference to the stream habitat – trying to stop the rock-stacking hikers, or trying to stop the hydropower dam being built? But the kids stacking rocks are less powerful than the interests building the dam, hence going after them is easier.

Whereas if you are clearing land for a new subdivision – well, you have a permit for that, which makes it okay. Especially since you mitigated the wetlands by building new ones somewhere else.

My point being that having rules and regulations is a double-edged sword. They can be used for protecting nature; they can also be used for greenwashing.

That brings us right back to the early part of this discussion; one could equally well ask your question about trammeling the trails, which can lead to erosion. Are trips to the park to walk the trails “necessary”? Is the smoke (air pollution) from the picnic area’s barbecue grills “necessary” when people have cooking appliances at home? Why add more damage unnecessarily?

But this question is usually asked of what “other people” do, not what oneself does.


We can do this question loop all day. It isn’t changing anyone’s opinion, and it’s not productive. So, I’m going to wish you well and politely leave the conversation.


If you’re hiking and find a cairn that can be easily assembled and dismantled with one hand you can be sure it serves no purpose whatsoever.

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The ones I call Zen rocks certainly do not fit that description. I thought those were the ones we were discussing originally?

I’m not sure what the definition of “Zen rocks” is in this context. That term to me suggests the works of performance artists of the land art movement, or traditional Japanese rock gardens for example. Neither really fit into this discussion. The professional rock balancing artists I’m aware of adhere to “leave no trace” principles and are very careful to minimize the impact their activity has on nature. This starts with an awareness of and careful selection of their sites and materials, to dismantling their stacks once they have taken pictures and/or videos of them. They don’t “leave their mark” on the landscape for other people to find and take down, which is the behavior that I think prompted this discussion.