Trivia 028: It all piles up

So today’s post was going to be about a mostly unrelated topic to this. Until I discovered that I couldn’t really find any references to what I wanted to talk about, but found this instead. I’m not going to reveal what I was originally going to talk about, because I might come back to it later. Anyways, on with the trivia.

Up the street from my parent’s house is an arroyo where we like to take the dogs on walks. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, an arroyo is a dry creek bed which sometimes fills with water when it rains. During especially heavy rains, they can be prone to flash floods. But for most of the year, they sit dry and dusty. This particular arroyo was relatively large, with many different paths/channels to walk around. Every so often, while walking the paths, you might come across some rocks that someone has carefully stacked into a nice, balanced column.

This is not a stone stack at the arroyo I was describing, but one I found on a hike.

Unfortunately, as fun as these are to make, as shareable as it may make your photos, these rock stacks are detrimental to the environment. The problem, as with many things nowadays, is simply one of scale. If one person makes a nice stack of rocks and takes a photo of it, it’s not that big of a deal. However, when they post that photo on social media (the root of all evil), other people see it and say “hey, that’s neat”. And then they do it too. And then it spreads more. And it gets to the point where volunteers took down over 3500 stacks from just two mountains in Acadia National Park over the course of 2016 and 2017.

Around the world, large piles of rocks, called cairns, have been used as simple but effective waypoints to guide people along paths. But these “decorative” stacks are not functional, and can contribute to destruction of the natural surroundings. For example, if you are pulling rocks out of a riverbed to make a stack, you could be disrupting the habitat of baby fish, insect larvae, and algae and moss. In addition, if you are working rocks loose, you could be contributing to erosion in the area. Again, if just one person does it, it’s not that big of a deal. But you might be just one of a hundred other visitors who decides to make a stack on that day. The combined actions of all of these stacks build up over time. And, let’s be honest, when you come to an area where a bunch of people have already made stacks, the landscape isn’t as pretty anymore.

As populations increase, and more and more people visit these wild areas, some parks have been turning to reservation systems to manage their crowds. These lands are our shared heritage, and we should respect them so that others may enjoy them in the same way we do. So the next time you go hiking, remember to leave no trace. Take nothing but photos, and leave nothing but footprints.

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