I Caught the Stone Bug—and Got Certified

By Kevin Stamey, AmeriCorps member of the Megalithic Trail Crew on Bear Mountain

Kevin Stamey showing signs of the stone bug sickness.

Kevin Stamey working on the upper east face of Bear Mountain in 2013, showing signs of the stone bug. Credit: Georgette Weir


Trail workers face many hazards, like bad weather and getting bitten by ticks.  A lesser known hazard is the bite of the stone bug, which overwhelms its victims with an obsession to assemble stones in various linear formations called crib walls.  In particularly bad cases, the victims will drive long distances to be with other like-minded people to perform stone worship rituals tearing down old stone walls and rebuilding them.

I fell victim to the stone bug in 2013, working on the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain.  The crib walls on the trails were similar to the beautiful historic stone walls I admired in our area.  My brain nearly exploded when I discovered how stones were cut and shaped to fit one against another, letting gravity and friction hold the wall in place rather than mortar or cement.  “Really,” I asked myself, “you can actually do that?”  I didn’t know at the time that I was bitten.  I wanted to learn more!

My affliction drove me to The Stone Trust in Dummerston, Vt., in early May, where I undertook a timed certification exam in dry walling.  The Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain developed four levels of certification–Initial, Intermediate, Advanced, and Master Craftsman.  Examiners evaluate and score participants on their ability to tear down and rebuild walls within specified time limits, with each level increasing in difficulty, features, and scoring.

The aftermath of being infected with the stone bug

“Squeeze stile” feature in a freestanding dry stone wall built by Kevin Simpson. The aftermath of being infected with the stone bug. Credit: Kevin Simpson

I took the Level I test, which consisted of tearing down 27 square feet of wall and rebuilding it in seven hours. The scoring was based on demonstrating basic structural techniques within a demanding time frame–not necessarily the highest quality work, but that which can be produced in seven hours.  A passing score is 50 out of 100 points.

I took the pre-test the day before my certification, which helped me gauge how fast to work.  I went over the time limit by one hour, so I knew I had to really push myself the next day.  During the real test, I never stopped to consider if the wall looked good but just kept telling myself, “Don’t stop, keep moving, finish!”  The time limit was mentally stressful, and moving so much rock was physically challenging.

I passed.  But I understand there is no cure for the bug. Level II is in my future!

Both Kevin Stamey and Trail Conference Field Manager Kevin Simpson are now Level I-certified by the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain. Congratulations!

About Trail Walker

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of more than 2,100 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep these trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public. We publish maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The Trail Conference is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs with a combined membership of 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.
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