You’ve seen the stacks of stones—each carefully balanced to form a kind of rock snowman. Perhaps you’ve built one yourself or snapped a picture of an especially marvelous heap. But folks who live among the rock piles aren’t pleased. They view making stacks not as a relaxing, harmless hobby but as an act of selfish vandalism.
Residents of scenic locales say they’re being overrun with rock stacks, known as “cairns.” Along the north shoreline of Lake Superior in Minnesota, people say cairns began cropping up more often about five years ago. According to Minnesota Public Radio News, some blame rock stacking’s popularity on Instagram and other social media sites.
Photographer Travis Novitsky lives on Minnesota’s Grand Portage Reservation. He wasn’t bothered by cairns at first—but now they litter the lakefront. “I see it as a big detractor,” he says. “You’re expecting to see . . . an untouched piece of shoreline.”
The rock-stacking debate isn’t unique to Minnesota. It rages from Zion National Park in Utah to Acadia National Park in Maine. Some folks compare the stacks to sand castles—relaxing to make and lovely to look at. Others believe the man-made formations spoil the natural beauty of God’s creation and stand as monuments to the human ego.
Last summer, Stacey Fox and Anna Bennett waded unawares into a fierce cairn debate. They visited a Minnesota beach and found several skillfully built cairns. Fox posted a photo on a Minnesota Facebook group. It was quickly removed. People said the rocks were “wrecking the ecosystem,” Bennett recalls. She adds that they complained cairns “can even endanger species of wildlife.”
Kurt Mead, a state park naturalist, says many park staffers dislike cairns. They feel stacks spoil the scenery for those who come along after they’re built, so they kick them over.
Mead says rock stacks can also cause other harm: When folks pull stones from rivers, they remove the habitats of tiny animals at the bottom of the food chain. No rocks = no small creatures = no fish = no . . . you get the idea.
Peter Juhl has been balancing rocks for a quarter-century. He considers his remarkably balanced stacks temporary works of art. But he realizes he doesn’t own the landscape. Juhl encourages others to try stacking but urges them to dismantle their stacks after taking a photo, a refreshing way to put others first. (Philippians 2:3) He says, “I want to be kind to the beach and kind to the people who come later.”