Contrary to conjecture, neither trolls nor stealth artists from New York City are the culprits behind intricately stacked stone sculptures that have mysteriously appeared in and around the Fuller Mountain Preserve and the Town of Warwick in recent years.
Credit for these mind-boggling structures appears to belong to two local men in their late 20s, purported fans of landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy's serpentine stone "Wall," a permanent installation at the Storm King Art Center in Cornwall.
Aside from their talent to remain under the radar while working in plain view, the builders have displayed an ability to delight with their seemingly gravity-defying piles of stone, known as cairns.
"They're magical," said Jim Delaune, head of the Orange County Land Trust, which maintains the wooded, 255-acre Fuller Mountain Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. "They just started popping up on the Fuller property about two years ago. There were in excess of 30 cairns the last time I looked."
Hikers in the preserve might come across an arch of stones improbably balanced over a stream, or a stand of whimsical pillars rising from a creek bed, or a human likeness with an oval rock balancing on end on a rectangular stone. Another cairn resembles a dog.
"Some are quite large, up to 6 feet tall. It's absolutely perplexing how they are stacked so they balance," said Caroline Hamling, director of development for the land trust.
Jo Hull, a Warwick resident and land trust board member, has unexpectedly come across the cairns.
"I go to Fuller a couple of times a year. The sculptures are not intrusive when you are hiking, but you know what it is once you come upon it," she said. "Some are even in streams. They are very interesting."
Cairns have shown up in town, too, in a public park.
"Sometimes in Lewis Woodlands you would notice that one had been knocked over, and then it would be fixed," Hull said, remarking on the builders' stealth.
This voila aspect of the cairns has recently fallen to a more mundane explanation, a rumor that two young men were responsible.
Daniel Mack, a rustic furniture maker in Warwick and an artist who works in natural materials, confirmed the rumor when contacted to comment on the artistic value of the cairns.
Mack said he talked to the builders -- once. That's when he elicited the comment about the inspiration provided by Goldsworthy's work, but not much else.
"A friend of mine was hiking and came upon them. They were shocked," Mack said. "I've spoken to them; they were not forthcoming. They are very secretive about what they do."
Artist to artists, Mack said he appreciates the cairn builders' work. "It's setting up a pleasant trap, with skill, eye and imagination for the unsuspecting public to walk into," he said. "There you are dutifully hiking, and then you see these things. It's a delight."
But he said he thinks the young men might have gone overboard. "They are also manic about it. They keep going and going -- whenever you see three stones you just have to stack them. It's a little compulsive, but I'm a minimalist," he said. "Make a statement, then get out."
He also pointed out that the cairns are "slightly controversial, because the land is a trust preserve. Some people say leave it alone."
Perhaps liability is one reason the builders have worked in secret. Or perhaps they want the cairns to speak for themselves.
Newsday contacted Tim Diermeier of Warwick, identified by Mack as one of the builders. Diermeier admitted that he and a friend built the stone sculptures. He also said: "I would love to talk about it. I have to get back to work. Can you call back tomorrow?"
Tomorrow never came. The elusive cairn builder who helped create the mystery and magic in Warwick has not answered Newsday's calls since.