This is discussion about The Great Baikal Trail: the first system of hiking trails in all of Russia.
As an aspiring long-distance hiker, I found myself becoming very excited as I read your entry - what a terrific project!
I have two questions for you.
The first is that as I read, I wondered how you would balance access (especially for the wheelchair-bound, as that has been a big part of the discussion for this competition) with aesthetic, as in the desire of backpackers to have a rustic, backcountry, back-to-nature kind of experience. I found myself hoping you were not planning on paving the trail, although I of course also want those who may not have the same physical capabilities to be able to access it - so how will you balance those sometimes conflicting interests?
Second, I was interested in what you said about locals looking to start small business enterprises along the route. I know that here in the US, the Appalachian Trail has given rise to many small lodges, small businesses like food stores and hiking gear stores, and festivals - is that the kind of business enterprise you're thinking of, or would this be on a larger scale?
Thanks for entering the geotourism challenge - I'm so excited about this project, I may just come volunteer, myself!
My name is Elisabeth, and I am a volunteer at GBT. I'll try to answer your question.
We build many kinds of trails at the moment, and are working to start classifying them based on various factors. Currently, none of our trails are paved, and we have no plans to pave the majority of our trails.
We choose the trail type based on a number of factors, one of which is the type of use that the trail will encounter during the year. We try to take into consideration many different types of hikers when we decide what type of trail to build. Ideally, there would be smaller portions of trail that could accomidate hikers with physical limitations, but the majority of our trails will definitely remain more "rustic."
GBT encourages interaction between hikers and villagers. We have been working to set up Bed and Breakfasts and small businesses, which cater to the physical and cultural needs of the travellors. We are not advocating any larger enterprises, as we want the economic benefits of the trail to go directly to the local population, in order to help them keep up their traditional way of life in an ecologically friendly manner.
I would definitely recommend volunteering with us! It is truly a great experience.
Dear Mrs. Luzhkova,
The Great Baikal Trail seems like a good project.. Internationals get to visit the legendary Siberia and help build a network of trails around a great lake.
You say there is not a culture of volunteering in Russia. How does the Great Baikal Trail attract Russian volunteers?
Dear Ms. Ugoletti,
I am writing in place of Natasha, since she is deep in the process of finishing the cumulative research paper, which she needs to graduate from university. I also apologize for the delay in this response.
My name is Elisabeth Kruger, and I am a volunteer with GBT.
Most of our volunteers during the year (not on the summer projects) are Russian, with a few exceptions. During the summer and winter trailbuilding projects, many international volunteers join us, and a true international volunteer exchange takes place.
At first, it was difficult to find Russian volunteers. The concept of working for free was difficult to explain, and not very many people came in off the street. Gradually, friends and acquaintances of the founders of GBT started joining the organization. The, through word-of-mouth, more people started hearing about what we do and becoming interested. Currently, our best method of recruiting volunteers is still through word-of-mouth, but we also post advertisements in local universities, print brochures, which we distribute through volunteers all over Russia and the world, and advertise our group on the GBT website.
Gradually, volunteerism is becoming more popular in Russia. We hope to fuel the movement!
Thank you for your interest,
It was preety hard to be a volunteer in Russia several years ago and it is so even now, but the situation becomes better. In our region (Siberia) it's (to some degree) due to the GBT. When I became a GBT volunteer, I had to explain almost to every person I met on the way to the project what volunteer is. Now at different exhibitions or project presentation (at schools, universities) there are more and more people who know what GBT and Volunteerism mean. I'm glad to be GBT volunteer. It makes my life meaningful and colorful.
I have been volunteering at GBT since the very beginning, summer 2003, when first trail building projects were conducted. During all past years I have seen the rapid increase of people interest to this project. It is expressed in increase of number of volunteers every year. Why I have been volunteering so long – it does give new experience and skills to me. And so to many other young people. The same time we all help to Lake Baikal. Everyone does a few but together we do a lot. I guess there are little or no organizations like GBT in my region or even in whole Russia and no organizations which build safety and interpretative trails. Thus GBT work is needed. Thus I like it!
GBT is cool. My brother has taken part in the project in 2005, and my wife and I will go to Siberian Great Baikal Lake to join them in July.
Dear Yining Xiang,
Where are you from? What was your brother's experience like, and what moved you to decide to volunteer?
There are not too many good trails around Lake Baikal… and GBT does important thing – it draws our attention to this problem. Good trail – means safety, availability, and beautiful views. Trail attracts people to place and reduces negative influence of visitors at environment. Also trail allows people to visit remote villages and use service of locals so as bed&beakfast houses, buy handmade souvenirs etc…
We build a network of trails which could be composed of different leveled trails for various social groups. We are thinking about trails for wheelchairs too but unfortunately do not have enough materials now. And there should be appropriate infrastructure for such kind of people to get there. And this issue has risen only recently.
About sort of business you were right. Bed&breakfast houses, sale of handmade souvenirs, provision local guides could be appropriate locals. Big hotels and resorts all around the lake will be harmful for fragile ecosystem and since this business is usually started by wealthy people from big cities, it would worsen life of locals.
Thank you for your questions and your interest. I am experienced GBT volunteer and team leader. I answer because all GBT stuff have been extremely busy during past 1,5 month with organizing upcoming season of projects.
GBT doesn't only build trails. GBT runs diffrent projekts, including educational projekts with children. I study at the linguistic university and my future profession is teacher. Taking part in such projekts i get a great expierence at work with children! As a GBT volunteer i also have an opportunity to improve my languages. And GBT gives us much more! GBT helps us to develop ourselves!
Sorry for my English.
At GBT I hit accidentally. wanted simply to relax on Baikal in summer. There was a little shocked that my 15 years and will have to work! But then even liked:) I do not imagine his life without volunteering. I met with many interesting people, travelled in protected corners of nature. I'm just happy that GBT there! Thanks to organizers and Maryasovoy Alene, GBT projects coordinator in the north of Lake Baikal, personally for the work.
I believe that GBT projects together people from different countries, help in mastering other languages, participants are introduced to the culture of different countries. The more projects - the better.
GBT also volunteers engaged in environmental education. It is just excellent! This means that their children will we be able to convey a clean planet, and they will continue our cause.
I can think of few not-for-profit organizations that take on the bredth of work that the GBT does; from environmental conservation and restoration to cultural exchange and working with children. They provide a unique and invaluable opportunity for people not just in their part of the world, but on an international scale. I question whether there are many organizations in the world that get as much done with such a small resource base.
There is a pressing need for the work that the GBT performs. They are working to preserve one of the world's most valuable natural resources, promoting cultural understanding worldwide, improving the quality of life for the people of the region, and building a sustainable local economy, which is based on a participative rather than explotative labor base and use of natural resources. They are setting an example that much of the world could learn from.
My experience working with the GBT was highly educational and inspiring. I cannot stress enough the value this organization has not just for Russia, but for environmental conservation and cultural exchange world wide. The beauty and spiritual presense of lake Baikal is incomparable and is something that must be experienced to be understood. Long live GBT.
I think, GBT is the great organization. It’s a new idea for our region and it helps people to understand, how it is important, when you work without money for the lake, for nature and for all us! To save Lake Baikal is not just necessary, it is vitally important. GBT is one of all organizations, who make great work for it.
We build trails and we save life of our children!
Great Baikal Trail is a really effective organization, it contributes a lot to developing the ecoligical tourism in the region, and it's a platform for meeting and collaborating people from all parts of the world.
I participated in the GBT project just once, but it was an unforgettable experience. I wish everyone could take part in the GBT projects and see a wonderful Baikal lake!
The idea to make approachable to all people of our Global Community the area of Baical by hiking is very innovative. I could not imagine it myself, so I must congratulate you. Here it is now an affordable reality available to all of us, a very attractive idea of tourism. One more reason to visit an area out of the traditional roads and destinations of tourism.
I find it as a unique idea, especially since it is materialised in Russia a country where the interest for the protection of the environment was zero just a few years ago.
Apostolis Papageorgiou, Environmental Protection Consultant, Athens Greece
Thank you for the kind note!
We are definitely glad to play a part in developing environmentalism and ecotourism here. We still have a long way to go, but everyone at GBT is very committed.
If you are interested, you can go to our website (www.greatbaikaltrail.org) and find out how to join us on a project. We love having new participants from new countries!
All the Best,
Since 2002, when your initiative was initiated, could you register success in boosting local geotourism? Are there any official statistics which show this success?
Thank you for your note!
Unfortunately, there are very few records here about the increase in geotourism. We would love to have more data, but the infrastructure to collect it is still lacking.
The only official data we have comes from the yearly report of the director of the Pribaiakal National Park, where GBT actively builds trails. According to his reports, in 2005 there were 16,850 official guests in the Pribaikal National Park, which covers about 60% of the Western coast of Baikal. In 2006, there were 150,000 visitors, and in 2007, 151,200 people visited the park. As you can see, this represents a huge jump in visitors between 2005 and 2006.
Otherwise, we know that homestays have opened in many of the villages along our trails. We hope to gather more concrete data on this in the future, because as of now our information is purely anecdotal.
Again, thank you for your comment, and please let us know if you have any more questions.
The aspect of volunteerism in this application makes it stand out from the crowd. the sense of ownership that that will engender will be overwhelmingly important in embedding the GBT in the hearts of Siberians and making it part of their environment, its right to existence no longer questioned.
A very impressive venture.
I think that you are right about the sense of ownership that people get after working on a project.
Over the past five years, 1677 Russian volunteers and 642 international volunteers have worked on the Great Baikal Trail.
I often help to represent the GBTA at local fairs, and people always stop by to tell us about their participation in projects and express their appreciation for our continuing work. For those people, Baikal has become even more precious, because they put their own sweat into protecting it.
In addition, our international volunteers take their experience home with them and spread the word about Baikal and its global importance.
I have been at the Baikal during March 2008. This Winterproject has been a suuuper expression of Baikal/Siberia to me.
Rolf Sieber, Switzerland
I am proud to place at the top of my life adventures that in 2005 I visited the Lake Baikal region and walked the partially finished Great Baikal Trail (GBT). In a group of multinational ecotourists, representing a wide range of ages and physical abilities, we ultimately all fell in love with this deep, beautiful and ancient lake. A short distance in kilometers on the trail can take the hiker through three to four distinct plant communties, each illustrating canopy cover, soil layers, and tempering influence of the lake. Then there's the hot springs.
The GBT volunteers we met along the trail were just like us in several ways: They were multinational and in love with Lake Baikal. Unlike us they were all young and strong, full of energy, ready to take on the next task, looking forward to the next big meal, and grateful for anything chocolate.
Mining and logging enterprises extract value from the region. This project ADDS VALUE to the region. I am very pleased to support this GBT project.
I spent some time volunteering on the GBT with a group from the Tahoe-Baikal institute - what an incredible network you are building there! Go GBT!
On May 28, 2008, the judges reviewed the entries for the Changemakers “Geotourism Challenge” and would like to pass on this feedback for your entry. Thank you for applying and for your hard work in the field. We are excited to archive your entry to serve as a leading solution for the worldwide community of sustainable tourism innovators. We wish you continued luck with your sustainable, innovative, and socially impactful initiatives.
All the best, The Changemakers Team
“The combination of outdoor exploration, environmental conservation, and harnessing a mass volunteer base to create a network of trails in Russia is truly innovative. What are the recruiting techniques to keep up a viable volunteer base to support the initiative?”
-Changemakers Geotourism Judges: National Geographic Society, Past President the Ford Foundation, whl.travel - World Hotel Link, ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth.