The Great Baikal Trail: the first system of hiking trails in all of Russia

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The Great Baikal Trail: the first system of hiking trails in all of Russia

Russia
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The Great Baikal Trail will allow access to parts of Lake Baikal that are now beyond the reach of most visitors. Only five percent of the lakeshores are developed, with very few roads anywhere. We would like to keep it that way. Therefore, to avoid industrial development, and to preserve our cultural and natural environments intact, we Siberians are intent on limiting access to most of our lake to only hikers, bikers, skiers, horseback riders, etc.
Through eco-tourism and volunteer vacations, we are working to preserve the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the deepest, purest, oldest lake in the world.

Your idea
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Street Address

Yadrintseva st 5-11

City

Irkutsk

State/Province

Irkutsk Region

Postal/Zip Code

664023

Country
Year innovation began

2002

Geotourism Challenge Addressed by Entrant

Quality of benefit to the people of the desitination

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Indicate sector in which you principally work

Conservation/Preservation organization

Geographic location

Urban, Rural, Coast, Mountain.

Plot your innovation within the Mosaic of Solutions
Main barrier addressed

Lack of collaboration

Main insight addressed

Education through hands-on experience

Innovation
What is the goal of your innovation?

We protect the environment in Siberia by advocating for environmentally sustainable development around the deepest, purest lake on earth.

How does your approach support or embody geotourism?

Local people around Lake Baikal want to preserve their environment, as well as their own native lifestyles, sustained for hundreds of years. At the same time, they want to earn a decent wage, and escape the poverty that plagues rural areas of Russia. Geotourism can successfully combine these goals. The local population understands that tourism holds great promise on Baikal, and that many jobs could appear if more travelers are attracted to the oldest lake in the world.
The Great Baikal Trail not only opens up much of the lake for visitors from around the world, it also creates a network of local people, who are starting up their own business enterprises that will serve visitors along the trail. Tourists realize that there is more to the Baikal area than the beautiful wilderness. They also discover aspects of traditional Siberian lifestyle alongside Siberian families, who are indigenous Russians, the descendents of Siberian explorers, and the descendents of exiles.
By creating tourism employment for the local population, GBT dissuades them from continuing their current occupations, which are sometimes harmful to the environment. We give them another, ecologically friendly option that also helps preserve their Siberian heritage.

Describe your approach in detail. How is it innovative?

The Great Baikal Trail is building the first system of trails in all of Russia. It is also attempting to connect national parks and reserves with Mongolia, which neighbors Siberia to the South. Finally, this is Russia’s first attempt at harnessing a volunteer force on such a large scale, so as to create a tourism network without drawing upon the limited resources of either the local people or their representative institutions.
The Great Baikal Trail, therefore, is more than just the construction of a network of trails. If this trail program continues to succeed, it will likely engender a spirit of volunteerism that has been absent in Russia’s recent history. It will also give us a sense of global community, by bringing people together from around the world—whether they are volunteers along the trail, or one of the many international tourists who are drawn to this immense lake. In the end, the GBT might be able to offer the ultimate in environmental lessons, one that the GBT staff is teaching almost daily: that, through the development of real geo-tourism, it possible to protect the environment and make a decent living at the same time.

What types of partnerships or professional development would be most beneficial in spreading your innovation?

Although the Great Baikal Trail has the full support of the national parks, reserves, and other local administrations and enjoys the partnership of many Russian and global organizations, it is still seeking out international volunteers and ecotourists who might come to Baikal and contribute. For this reason it would be helpful to connect with other tourism and volunteer-placement agencies from around the world, who could help us recruit from abroad. It would certainly make our program all the more attractive and profitable for everyone if we were able to bring in even more participants from overseas.

Impact
In one sentence describe what kind of impact, change, or reform your approach is intended to achieve.

By building trails, GBT attracts ecotourists to Baikal, creates environmentally friendly jobs in remote villages, and develops Russian volunteerism.

Describe the degree of success of your approach to date. Clearly define how you measure quantitative and qualitative impact in terms of how your approach contributes to the sustainability or enhancement of local culture, environment, heritage, or aesthetics? How does your approach minimize negative impacts? 200 words or less

In five years, the Great Baikal Trail has recruited and trained 2,319 volunteers, who have worked on 540 kilometers of trails around Baikal. This is considerably more than other regional organizations. The GBT has hosted over 30 international experts on trail-building, interpretation, and cultural heritage. These eminent specialists have guided us in designing a more effective trail system with fewer negative impacts, created in the beginning due to lack of knowledge. Recently, some of these experts have begun leading overall assessments of our work, giving us suggestions on how to create an even more useful, low-impact trail system.

In recent years, we have grown into an umbrella organization that not only builds trails, but contributes to society through additional methods. With our help, the number of homestays in the Baikal region increased substantially. Each of these families provides accommodation and other services to tourists and volunteers along the trail, to their own financial profit. We also conduct seminars and other public outreach programs around Baikal, educating local people about the benefits that will accrue with ecotourism. We have also worked with hundreds of handicapped, orphaned, and at-risk children in our region, giving them experience in volunteerism, leadership, and out-door recreation.

How does your program promote traveler enthusiasm, satisfaction, and engagement with the locale?

Lake Baikal allures tourists with the beauty and bounty of its natural world and local cultures. There are more species of plants and animals here than in any other lake in the world. The Great Baikal Trail gives visitors direct access to the wildlife and the natural environment here, as well as introducing them to local families and traditions. The local population benefits financially, but everyone gains cultural understanding and experience through individual interactions in the home. Through ecotourism, this pristine area will be preserved for future generations.

In what ways are local residents actively involved in your innovation, including participation and community input? How has the community responded to or benefited from your approach?

Local residents are heavily involved in GBT projects. Some 70%, or about 1,700, of our volunteers come from the local population. We also work closely with local national parks and other community agencies on Baikal, which help us plan and design all of our trail-building projects. Local people benefit financially from the GBT, either as host-families who accommodate tourists along the trail or as one of the many other emerging service providers who assist international volunteers and other visitors along the trail. GBT is well known in the area, and locals support our activities.

Describe how your innovation helps travelers and local residents better understand the value of the area’s cultural and natural heritage, and educates them on local environmental issues. How do you motivate them to act responsibly in their future travel decisions?

All of GBT’s crew/tour leaders are trained on how to conduct their trips and trail-building projects in an environmentally and culturally sensitive way. When local people build trails themselves, they come to value the result, and want to share it with others. The GBT has also enlisted several environmental educators in the region, who help spread the word amongst schoolkids and the local public at large about the meaning of ecotourism. Their message: if you do not trash your environment, and if you really value Siberia’s cultural heritage, then you likely will reap all kinds of benefits in the future.

Sustainability
Is your initiative financially and organizationally sustainable? If not, what is required to make it so? What is the potential demand for your innovation?

The GBT not only receives fees from its project volunteers, but also has begun to operate its own ecotours along that part of the trail system that has already been built. Our tourism specialists estimate that by the year 2010 there will be enough money collected from all our volunteers and ecotourists to run each of the 25-30 trail-building and other annual projects along the GBT. This will mean that any grants or donations that we collect can be dedicated to the expansion of our work.

How is your initiative currently financed? If available, provide information on your finances and organization that could help others. Please list: Annual budget, annual revenue generated, size of part-time, full-time and volunteer staff.

The GBT presently receives fees of US$350 from each of its some 120 international volunteers each summer. It also receives small grants from local government agencies, as well as from international organizations such as Global Greengrants, Rotary, and others. There are also donations and contributions from private individuals. This generates about US$40,000 a year in revenue, which goes to operate about 25 trail-building and other environmental education projects each year. There are three full-time staff, and four part-time workers, and another 25 people who volunteer in the GBT offices on a regular basis.

What is your plan to expand your approach? Please indicate where/how you would like to grow or enhance your innovation, or have others do so.

Already there are representatives from other parts of Russia who are looking to replicate our experience at Lake Baikal. The GBT staff has begun to train and advise park officials and environmental NGOs from Kamchatka, the Altai Mountain, and the Russian Far East. We are helping them plan to build their own trail systems. The GBT is beginning to collaborate with trail-building programs in Eastern Europe, and we hope to initiate one of the few exchange programs between Russia and its former Soviet bloc colleagues in Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

What are the main barriers you encounter in managing, implementing, or replicating your innovation? What barriers keep your program from having greater impact?

The main barrier to developing our trails, but perhaps one of our greatest advantages in protecting our environment, is the remoteness of our region. We are located thousands of miles from most major cities, and the nearest large population centers have not had the time to develop volunteerism as a modern tradition. Therefore, it is a challenge for us to recruit the hundreds of international volunteers that we seek each year.

The same kind of problem makes it difficult for us to find many international participants for our eco-tours along the trail. Next door to us in China, most people are not very well versed in or inclined towards the development of eco-tourism. In fact, only one of our trip participants or volunteers has come from China these past five years. However, there is great potential for cooperation with our Asian neighbors. In the long run, we would like to see our trail programs expand so that we can work more closely with Mongolian partners. And there is the dream of building historical trail extensions along the old Silk and other caravan routes that are famous around the globe.

The Story
What is the origin of your innovation? Tell your story.

Siberia is a place of legend for all Russians. Lake Baikal, the pearl of Siberia, is the cradle of history for this part of the world. Genghis Khan was born near here, and many native tribes have roamed Baikal’s shores. In more recent times, proud and hearty Siberian woodsmen have explored the wilds of Siberia, and the stories of these adventurers captivate Russian children to this day.
During tsarist and Soviet times, Siberia was a place of exile. These days it is a land of opportunity. There are plenteous deposits of oil, gas, and precious metals to be found here, as well as vast forests that might be cut down for wood. However, the people around Baikal see the lake itself as the main resource.
Lake Baikal is also the birthplace for the Russian environmental movement of the 1960s. Because only 5% of the lake’s shorelines had been developed, local environmentalists wanted to find ways of keeping the other 95% as close to a natural state as possible. While “developers” talked about building roads around the lake, several emerging activists came forward in the 1980s with the idea of keeping the lake road-less.
The Great Baikal Trail concept began with a simple yet daunting idea - to build a trail circumventing one of the oldest and most beautiful lakes on Earth, with access for horseback riders, bicyclists, and people in wheelchairs. The trail would stretch over 2000 kilometers, connecting seven national parks and reserves and providing easy access to Baikal’s breath-taking views and panoramas. While a single trail around the entire lake is still a far off dream, volunteers with the GBT have been working diligently for the past five years to create Russia’s first system of trails that provide access to some of the most magical places in the Baikal Region. Eventually, these trails will be connected and the vision of a complete system of trails around Lake Baikal will become reality.
Even though there was no tradition of volunteerism in Russia, a working group was formed to help recruit, train, and employ at first dozens, then hundreds, and now thousands of volunteers to build the trail. Nearly a third of these volunteers would come from abroad, ecotourists who wanted to do good work while exploring this vast, untrammeled corner of the world. These volunteers were even willing to pay a fee for the privilege of working on the trail—a willingness which, at first, was quite incomprehensible to local Siberians. The international flavor of these trail-building camps turned out to be one of the main selling points for all volunteers.
During the last five years, the GBT has worked closely with local parks, and with international experts (from organizations such as Earth Corps, Earth Island Institute, the US Forest Service, and the German Baikal-Plan), to design and work on some 540 kilometers of trails around Baikal. And now, each summer, the GBT plans to continue with another 25-30 trail-building projects, until the entire system of trails is completed.

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I am a student of Natural Resource Management at the Irkutsk State University. I also studied as a Rotary exchange student in Illinois, USA in 2001-2002, and was trained in non-profit management in 2006 in the Western part of the United States and in trail building in Australia in 2007. With GBT, I have worked as International Coordinator and have also served as a crew leader and interpreter on summer projects. I teach GBT courses on trail building and leadership skills to future GBT crew/tour leaders.

Please write an overview of your project. This text will appear when people scroll over the icon for your entry on the Google map located on the competition homepage.

The Great Baikal Trail will allow access to parts of Lake Baikal that are now beyond the reach of most visitors. Only five percent of the lakeshores are developed, with very few roads anywhere. We would like to keep it that way. Therefore, to avoid industrial development, and to preserve our cultural and natural environments intact, we Siberians are intent on limiting access to most of our lake to only hikers, bikers, skiers, horseback riders, etc.
Through eco-tourism and volunteer vacations, we are working to preserve the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the deepest, purest, oldest lake in the world.