Is A Popular Thing Done By Wyoming Hikers Really Ok To Do?
Rock cairns are a bit of controversy around the hiking world, were you aware?
There's the side that says, you should leave everything as you found it and moving rocks is wrong. There's another side that says, it's a great way to mark trails and show off your accomplishments of hiking. THEN, you have the group that has no idea what a rock cairn is and don't really care.
I'll give you a run down of what a rock cairn is, the rules of cairns according to the US Forest Service and things to know from the US National Park Service
First, lets discuss what a rock cairn is and where you've seen them.
Rock cairns are human-made stacks, mounds or piles of rocks. They are used to mark trails, graves, serve as a monument, sacred ground or many different reasons. As long as they're not disturbed, they can stand for ages, and there are signs of that all over the country.
Places that you may see cairns that have stood the test of time are, historical markers like the Bighorn Medicine Wheel.
These days, hikers will make a cairn as a way of saying "I was here, I did it". With technology, you're able to mark a trail on a digital map and not really need to leave trail markers, like a cairn, but you'll still see trails and mountain tops scattered with them.
Here's a snippet from the US Forest Service website about how to treat what you find
The US Forest Service specifically mentions not building rock cairns on their website, FS.USDA.GOV, in their 'Know Before You Go' section:
Leave no trace that you were there. It’s illegal to destroy, remove or damage natural features- including flowers, rocks, and archaeological artifacts. This includes arrowheads. Avoid damaging living plants. This includes carving initials into tree trunks, using trees for target practice, or cutting live trees for firewood. Firewood is often available in local communities or from some campgrounds. Buying firewood locally cuts down on the spread of insects and diseases. Do not build any structures such as rock cairns or fire pits.
National Park Service is a bit divided on their thoughts on rock cairns, so 'Know Before You Go'
The National Park Service in some areas, like Yosemite NP in California, has begun recommending people knock down any recently made cairns, then spreading the rocks around to make the area feel more natural. Other parks say leave them alone and mind your own business. It's definitely at 'Know Before You Go' scenario.
Here are a few things that the National Park's recommend you 'Know Before You Go'.
- Plan ahead, know what you should have with you, the rules of the area you are visiting and will need on the journey
- Remain on durable surfaces while camping or hiking
- Leave it better than you found it. Dispose of trash properly and take what you brought with you.
- BUT, leave what you find.
- Be cautious with campfires and reduce the impacts of the fire
- Stay aware of your surroundings and wildlife. Never interfere with the wildlife and give them the respect they deserve.
- Respect others that are also visiting the parks, forest, grassland, historic site, or other national treasure you're visiting.