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.
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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.