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Why the Cuyahoga Valley National Park wants you to stop stacking rocks and practice 'Leave No Trace'

Posted at 8:00 AM, Sep 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-06 19:11:48-04

CLEVELAND — As parks have reopened and stir-crazy Northeast Ohioans have been finding refuge in the miles and miles of trails just a short drive away from home, park rangers want to remind visitors to leave the park as they found it, and that includes not touching loose stones for the enjoyment of rock stacking.

In the last couple of years, park rangers at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) have noticed that rock stacking is a problem, one that has amplified with the uptick of visitors ditching their scenery at home for a breath of fresh air.

“We have seen it more in Peninsula last summer and this summer. We’ve seen more of it in the rivers,” said Rebecca Jones, a ranger with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

It’s a trend Jones has noticed in recent months as more people head outdoors. And it’s a trend that she said is a threat to the aquatic habitat as these “rock stacking” formations are typically found near riverbeds and streams.

When rocks are relocated, this can also destabilize the soil and make the area vulnerable to erosion. It can also disrupt a river’s natural flow.

The CVNP put a warning out to visitors on Facebook, one that garnered a lot of reactions from people who visit the CVNP and other national parks in the country.

Jones said the stacking of rocks is just one example she’s noticed of activity that violates the Leave No Trace program ethos that should be honored by visitors to the CVNP.

“We're not a wilderness park. We're not going to be. But we are a wildness park. And people would experience that wild. When visitors come around a corner and they see the Cuyahoga River and the channel is changed because someone has re-channelized some rocks to make their own personal fortress, that’s not leaving no trace,” Jones said.

In other parts of the country, especially at national parks located in states with drier climates, park rangers use rock stacking, sometimes called cairns, as critical trail markers, and some carry cultural significance, as well, according to a recent article published by The Washington Post.

Since the pandemic started, rangers have noticed more signs of visitors failing to leave no trace—from gloves and masks on the ground to pieces of candy wrappers left behind.

In April, rangers watched Google Analytics and recorded a 162% increase in visitation based on people’s cell phone locations.

“So the parks are seeing an unprecedented amount of visitation. And if we all practice, leave no trace of ethics then the next person finds it as we found it. It makes for a lesser human impact on the natural resources,” she said.

Jones recognizes the meditative appeal to rock stacking but asks visitors to try the technique with dry rocks in their own backyard.

“But leave the rocks where you find them," Jones said. "So when they come, they see the river. They see the mist rising up above a scene that could have been there for 2,000 years.”

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