A debate that often gets a little heated in social media hiking groups involves painted "Kindness Rocks." Are they trash, or treasure?

From time to time, hikers find painted rocks along trails, or at summit cairns. Some feel leaving painted rocks with a short message as a fun way to share kind words. Some feel these rocks are a direct violation of the ethic of "Leave no trace." Some parks, trails, historic sites, or monuments specifically say leaving painted rocks behind is a form of littering.

Debates go back and forth online as to what to do with any found painted rocks. A majority of answers feature an image of a handful of painted rocks about to be tossed in a trailhead trash can. Many agree these rocks distract from the experience of being immersed in nature. Plus, "Kindness Rocks" weren't necessarily meant to be left deep in the woods.

The Kindness Rocks Project specifically says: "Never leave Kindness Rocks in national parks, hiking trails, businesses or without prior permission from your town." Instead they ask for folks to place rocks responsibly, with permission.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Similar to painted rocks, rock cairns, are another wild, woodsy, debate. Like the painted rocks, rock cairns are considered a distraction. Moving and stacking rocks is viewed as altering nature. It can also confuse hikers by misrepresenting the trail, as some trails are marked with cairns. This is the case in Acadia National Park.

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According to the National Parks Service, rangers mark trails by building a system of Bates cairns. They're named after Waldron Bates, who authored the hiking map that's still referenced to create today’s trail maps of Acadia. He also developed a standard for building cairns in a unique style. The specific style of cairns have been used to mark much of the east-side trials in the park since the 1990's.

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