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Cairns Belong on Quilts, Not Rivers

In honor of Bookends Quilting's new pattern, Cairn Quilt, and Earth Day, I get to combine two of my great loves--Quilting and Environmental Conservation!

The Cairn Quilt pattern is beautiful, and it's such a fun make. But making actual cairns in the wild can have severe consequences. To help explain, I invited my good friend, Jonathan, to teach us about why cairns are bad, especially in river environments!

Hey there! My name’s Jonathan Cox, I’m a seasonal Biological Science Technician at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I received my Bachelors and Masters of Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in Geology and Environmental Studies and I’ve been working in southern Appalachian conservation for around six years now. My work focuses on the conservation of rare and cultural plant species while my research is centered around salamander ecology and how forest disturbance events effect the Smokies’ terrestrial salamander species.

Cairns, or human-made stacks of rocks, have become a common sight across most of the United States’ public land and the Smokies is no exception. If you’ve visited the Smokies recently you’ve likely come across one of these cairns along the banks of one of our ~2,900 miles of streams and rivers. In some cases, you can even see sections of stream completely dammed or re-directed with similar stacks of rocks.

While cairns can have a very useful purpose, when used to mark trails in areas without other means to do so, they are often destructive and can harm wildlife and their habitats. In our streams and rivers, where cairns have become common, rock stacking can deprive aquatic critters of critical habitat, disturb soil thereby reducing oxygen, and physically injure the animals that live under them.

These unfortunate consequences affect aquatic macroinvertebrates, the foundation of our aquatic ecosystems, small fish like darters and minnows, and many of our salamander species. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has been named the Salamander Capital of the World due to it being a biodiversity hotspot for salamanders worldwide! We have at least 30 species within the national park but unfortunately salamanders, and amphibians in general, are globally declining due to several factors including climate change, spread of pathogens, and habitat destruction.

Unfortunately, cairns can cause habitat destruction or injury of many of our salamander species in the Smokies. In North Carolina, there have been several cases of rock stacking resulting in the death and injury of adult and larval eastern hellbenders. Hellbenders, lovingly nicknamed snot otters, are North America’s largest salamander species (measuring up to 2.5 feet long) and inhabit the spaces underneath large rocks across the bottom of larger Appalachian streams.

Eastern hellbenders are an extremely sensitive and rare species which rely on these highly oxygenated waterways and are even listed as endangered in Missouri.

Please be mindful of how we may be affecting our aquatic friends crawling across the stream floor by avoiding stacking rocks and creating cairns in and around streams or rivers. Pass along this message to your friends when you’re out enjoying the cool water this summer tubing or trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive hellbender!

Thank you so much, Jonathan! You can follow Jonathan on Instagram at @jcoxbo to see more pictures of Salamanders and the other awesome work he's doing!

For more information on how cairns are harmful to stream and river environments, check out Friends of the Smokies! And always remember you can check with local Park Rangers for the best practices involving cairns wherever you're visiting.

Next time you want to make a cairn--try making a quilt instead! The Cairn Quilt from Bookends Quilting releases on Earth Day, 4/22/22! AND to celebrate Earth Day and the Cairn Quilt Pattern, 20% of proceeds from sales for Cairn Quilts purchased at Tree House Quilting Co. will be donated to Friends of the Smokies! Check out the kits I have available below, and if you'd like to create your own kit with proceeds donated to the Smokies, please feel free to contact me.

3 Color Cairn

Available in Baby or Throw size. Get yours here!

 

9 Color Cairn

 Available in Throw size! Get yours here!

 

5 Color Cairn


Available in Throw Size! Get yours here!