Stop Stacking Stones
By Wendy Priesnitz
If you've recently hung out at a rocky
beach or walked a hiking trail, you've probably seen at least one artfully
balanced pile of stones left by a fellow Nature lover. Rock balancing,
sometimes known as stone stacking, is an activity in which
rocks are naturally balanced on top of one another and stay in position
merely by the design of the stack.
Especially photogenic, these piles of stones are Instagram- and
Facebook-friendly, drastically increasing the number of rock piles being
created in natural areas. Although it may seem like a creative, harmless,
peaceful, even meditative pastime, stone stacking seems to defy the
time-honored ethic of “leave no trace” because it changes the landscape and
impacts the experience of subsequent visitors in Nature.
In fact, the phenomenon has
begun to worry conservationists because these random cairns can misdirect
hikers thinking they're part of a sanctioned trail system, damage ecosystems
by exposing the soil to erosion and disrupting river flow, destroy the
habitat of invertebrates living on and under the stones, and aesthetically
intrude upon the natural landscape. There have even been concerns expressed
about the disturbance of archaeological sites by thoughtless stone stackers.
A few years ago, staff at Zion National Park in Utah created a post on
Facebook asking park visitors to leave the rocks and other natural objects
in place. They called stone stacking a “curious but destructive practice”
that amounts to “simply vandalism.”
Even as stone stacking been increasing in popularity, largely due to
social media, it is not a new activity. Stone cairns marked burial grounds
and served as shrines in prehistoric times, and have traditionally been used
as guide posts on otherwise unmarked trails. Some Indigenous tribes still
use rock structures to mark sacred or historical spots. The conflicts
between these uses and stone stacking as entertainment are additional
arguments against the activity.
And yet, those who speak out against random rock balancing receive some
pushback. Many people feel it is a trivial issue and others work hard to
defend it. When the environmental organization, the Blue Planet Society,
called attention to the ecological impact of stone stacking, it was
reportedly one of the most divisive issues they had ever discussed. And the
Facebook post on Zion National Park’s Facebook page resulted in a
debate comprising thousands of comments, with people arguing about the
importance of such a seemingly harmless activity.
But destroying habitat and changing the face of the dwindling number of
wild places on this planet is no small thing. And it is a poor lesson to
teach our children. So, please, leave no trace
when you're out in Nature, and not stacking
stones is a good start.
is Natural Life Magazine's editor, and a journalist and author with over 45 years of experience.