Cairns in the New York Times

Apparently Doug Schwartz is destroying the cliffs and shoreline on Staten Island. An article in today’s NYTimes describes how Schwartz has been stacking stones and making artwork out of objects he found on the beach. “We have concerns with the impact of his activities, and asked him to stop until we can properly assess them,” according to state official’s statement published in the paper.

Schwartz has long been known for his artwork. The NYT has written about him before and a local video maker, Daniel Ross, produced a documentary about Schwartz in 2009. Like many stone stackers, Schwartz says he does it because it’s peaceful. “Stone is eternal,” he says. He has smashed a few fingers but otherwise remained unharmed by his interaction with stone.

Most passersby get what he’s doing, though one co-worker thought it was a witches’ coven. He cleared up this misunderstanding. He has not been able to clear up the state officials’ concerns that Schwartz’ “movement of this material may be impacting the rate and location of erosion of the bluff (which has increased recently and required us to abandon one of the roads on the property).” Because of this, he has been told to stop his work on the beach.

I am of two minds about this. Moving rocks on the beach does have an impact on the local ecology as many animals make use of the rocks for their homes. But there are generally lots of rocks on the beach thus he is not disturbing a rare habitat, unlike some stone stackers who build them in areas where stone is less common, such as in Acadia National Park, where cairn builders are degrading sensitive alpine habitat. I also find it a bit ironic that one park official who told him to stop rode up on a tractor, which certainly has an impact on the beach.

Well, I wish everyone happy Thanksgiving.



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