Nfld. & Labrador

Parks Canada says Gros Morne hikers should stop building inukshuks

Newfoundland and Labrador's Gros Morne National Park wants people to stop building the stone sculptures, saying it could damage the landscape or even lead hikers astray.

Stone sculptures can damage delicate environments in the N.L. national park

An inukshuk by the Tablelands trail in Gros Morne National Park. (Submitted by Heather Goobie)

Parks Canada would like visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador's Gros Morne National Park to put an end to a common practice on some of its trails: building inukshuks.

A manager with the park said the stone figures are sometimes found in ecologically sensitive areas where people shouldn't be going.

"We don't have a policy about inukshuks, per se, but we do encourage people to leave the landscape much as we found it," said Carla Wheaton, the park's manager of visitor experience.

"We don't encourage people to pick the flowers or create rock formations in unlikely places."

Wheaton said inukshuks are often encountered on certain trails, such as atop Gros Morne Mountain, on the Tablelands and along the Trout River Pond trail — all places that feature barren areas with a lot of loose rock lying around, a temptation to potential sculptors.

Inukshuks, stone assemblages made to resemble a standing person, are of Inuit origin but have become common sights throughout Canada. Wheaton said many hikers in the park make them to mark their achievement of completing certain trails, or simply as a way to signify their presence in a particular spot.

The Tablelands, seen here in the background, are just one of the more ecologically delicate areas of the park. (Submitted by Kathleen Andrews )

Environmental impact

Those trails also share another feature: delicate environments, home to sensitive plants and other species at risk, especially at the summit of Gros Morne, with its Arctic alpine ecosystem.

"Disturbing the landscape can really have an impact. There are lichens that are hundreds of years old that can be impacted," Wheaton told CBC Radio's Corner Brook Morning Show.

The inukshuks are often built off designated trails, which can also create problems for hikers trying to find their way in thick fog and other bad weather conditions that can quickly set in.

Disturbing the landscape can really have an impact.- Carla Wheaton

"If there's inclement weather, and the visibility becomes poor, they may be led astray by rock formations that they see on the landscape," said Wheaton, adding this can be especially hazardous on steep trails or those near cliff faces.

Even if the inukshuks don't pose a problem for hikers, their presence can be disturbing.

"Some visitors like to think that they're the first to visit an area, and it's somewhat dismaying when they arrive in a location and see obvious evidence of the people who've passed before," Wheaton said.

For those people who simply can't pass up the opportunity to build an inukshuk, Wheaton recommends doing so on one of the park's stony beaches.

"It's an active environment, so anything you build during the day is probably going to disappear when the tide rises."

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show


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