Rock Stacking Can Harm Nature

Mar 15, 2021 - 10:35 am

Did you know that stacking rocks impacts soil, plants, and wildlife? 

Rock cairns have traditionally served as trail markers, but have recently become trendy on social media. What’s the harm in stacking a few rocks for fun? Actually, this seemingly innocuous act often has a critical impact on the delicate balance of nature. 

Also known as rock graffiti, stone stacks damage the ecosystem in a number of ways. This is especially true when the rocks are taken from a body of water. 


Stacking rocks is harmful because: 

  1. Stacking rocks in Austin’s creeks, rivers, and lakes can disturb the macroinvertebrates that call those rocks their home. This can have a cascade effect on the wellbeing of other animals in the ecosystem because the macroinvertebrates are a key part of the food chain. 

  1. Many land creatures use rocks for their habitats, too. Often birds build nests in rocks, plants incubate in the crevices, and insects live under them. When you move the rocks that they call home, they can die and this can cause a chain reaction within the food web. 

  1. Moving rocks dislodges the soil and disturbs natural habitats which can have a ripple effect on plant and animal life, including endangered species. A Biologist from Watershed Protection found a dead salamander at the bottom of a rock stack in Barton Creek. 

  1. Stacking rocks can lead hikers off the trail and cause people who rely on cairns for wayfinding to become lost. 

If you love nature, Leave No Trace (LNT). There are seven LNT principles. The fourth principle speaks specifically to behavior such as stacking rocks. 

Leave No Trace Principle 4: Leave What You Find 

  • Leave rocks, plants and other natural objects as you find them. 

  • Avoid introducing or transporting non-native species. 

  • Do not build structures, furniture, or dig trenches. 

  • Preserve the past: examine, but do not touch cultural or historic structures and artifacts. 

Learn more and spread the word about Leave No Trace at  

#ATXParks #ATXParkRangers #LNT #LeaveWhatYouFind