Stacking rocks on a picturesque hiking trail may seem like a harmless act, but rangers and walking enthusiasts say the practice is doing more damage than we think, and they want to put an end to it.
- Rangers and walking groups say rock towers are becoming more frequent along hiking trails
- They say they can cause erosion and negatively impact animals
- Hikers can be fined up to $600 in Queensland for making the towers, as it’s classified as “unauthorized works”
When ranger Cathy Gatley came across an entire creek bed full of the stacks at Cania Gorge National Park in central Queensland recently, she took a photo.
The picture was widely shared on social media and quickly attracted robust discussion, after years of debate on the matter across the country.
Ms Gatley, a senior project officer for the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, said the intensive rock stacking had transformed the scenery.
“What once was a pebble rock bed of creek is now bare ground, just with rock stacks there,” Ms Gatley said.
The stacks, known as rock cairns, were traditionally used as navigational aids when there was no obvious track to follow.
“Where sign placement can be difficult in places such as across rocky headlands or exposed mountain tops … they’re there as a safety tool to make sure hikers don’t become disoriented,” she said.
But Ms Gatley said the stacks were becoming increasingly common on walking trails, and most were not built for navigational purposes.
“Most of us go to national parks to really experience that natural scenery, and just like scratching your name into a tree, rock stacks are seen as vandalism.”
Not so ‘harmless’
Michael Pugh, organizer of central Queensland and Townsville Hike and Explore Groups, said he had also seen the practice grow over the past few years.
He put the trend down to the rise of social media.
“They’re popping up everywhere,” Mr Pugh said.
He recently spotted rock cairns throughout a trail in the Pinnacles National Park.
“There’s no need for them,” he said.
Ms Gatley said moving rocks around could lead to erosion.
“The rocks help to absorb water, and they prevent runoff,” she said.
,[They also] provide a habitat refuge for many plants and animals … moving the rocks, it takes away that habitat and can also make animals more open to predators because they have less places to hide.
If the environmental effects were not enough of a deterrent, hikers can also be fined up to $600 for making unnecessary rock cairns, as it’s classified as “unauthorised works”.
Ms Gatley said anyone who finds a rock stack should report it to the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.
Bad hiking behavior
Mr Pugh said there were other bad hiking habits popping up with increasing frequency in central and north Queensland, including walkers using pink flagging tape.
“People may be concerned about not being able to find their way, or to mark a certain area trail,” Mr Pugh said.
“We find our trails covered in pink and orange flagging tape … it’s not needed.”
Mr Pugh said some of the outdoor community also needed more educating about toilet etiquette while hiking.
“I’m not saying this is a problem everywhere, but it’s certainly becoming a lot more apparent given the increasing popularity of bush walking and hiking post COVID-19.”
Mr Pugh said it was great more people were getting outdoors, but it was important to remember the mantra “leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photos”.
“I think if [everyone] refers to the ‘leave no trace’ principle across the board, that will make things a lot easier for people,” he said.
Ms Gatley also encouraged hikers to stay on walking tracks.
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