Great Baikal Trail Organization
It all began with a simple yet daunting idea - to build a trail circumventing one of the oldest and most beautiful lakes on Earth, “the pearl of Siberia” - Lake Baikal. A trail over 2000 kilometers long, connecting seven national parks and reserves and providing easy access to Baikal’s breath-taking views and panoramas. For more than 30 years this idea was nothing but a dream, dismissed as quixotic, impractical, overly ambitious, and just crazy. And yet, for the past three years, a group of enthusiastic local environmentalists - along with hundreds of volunteers - have been transforming the impossible dream into reality. It’s called the Great Baikal Trail (GBT).
GBT is an international non-profit organization, with a mission to promote local sustainable development of Lake Baikal and surrounding areas through low-impact ecotourism. This mission is grounded in building environmentally friendly trails that are safe and enjoyable for hikers of all ages and levels of experience. GBT is carrying out trail-building projects around Baikal in two-week summer camps composed of international volunteer crews. GBT projects concentrate on environmental education, restoration, social responsibility and leadership, on improving the health and well-being of local people, preserving indigenous peoples, their cultures and traditions, as well as promoting intercultural interaction.
In addition to building the first trail in Russia in accordance with international trail-building standards, GBT is creating an infrastructure supporting sustainable development of the entire Baikal region. By providing new economic incentives for local populations to preserve their environment, GBT is offering a viable alternative to industrial development while raising the local standard of living (the Baikal region is an economically depressed area of Russia with a high rate of unemployment). GBT is creating new work places and promoting local environmentally-friendly business initiatives by ensuring a steady influx of ecologically-minded tourists. For example, GBT trail-building projects give local youth and adults the opportunity to work as trail-building crew leaders and interpreters, and support local villagers in their efforts to develop private bed and breakfast lodges.
GBT is also a conservation effort aimed at raising awareness of the value of unpolluted wilderness among the local populations. GBT projects introduced a type of tourism that is well familiar in the West but practically unknown in Russia – a volunteer vacation. More often than not, the idea that Russians and foreigners are willing to come to Baikal and work for free, to donate their time and money to preserve the Lake, to spend two weeks of vacation building a trail in the middle of Siberia, is absolutely mind-boggling to the local people. After getting over the initial surprise and disbelief, they have a new point of reference for seeing – and respecting - the beauty of Baikal.
Over the past three summers, hundreds of volunteers have contributed thousands of hours to build recreational trails that are clear, safe, well-marked, and maintained.
GBT’s future plans:
While over 385 kilometers of trail have been built, improved, or restored, many more kilometers remain. But the dream does not stop there – GBT plans to add specialized wheelchair-access, mountain biking, horse-riding, cross-country skiing trails, to the network. GBT organizers foresee multifaceted educational and social projects powered by partnerships between the community, business and administration. Such projects will include creation of barrier- or “obstacle-free” city and recreational environments for physically challenged people, leadership programs for local youth, certification programs teaching new or additional work skills to the unemployed or homeless, and programs addressing the needs of at-risk youth, inmates at low-security prisons, orphans and teenagers from broken or problematic homes, and populations of economically depressed rural areas. There are plans of international exchange programs dedicated to environmental education, protection, and sustainable development.
Baikal’s unique place among the most important ecosystems of our planet cannot be overestimated. Its beauty is timeless, its value is immeasurable. GBT is not just a trail. It is a path to economically and environmentally sound future for the region, and a strong, well-connected network of people dedicated to protecting Baikal’s pristine ecosystems and preserving them for future generations. Let’s make this world a bit better together!
The GBT was instrumental in organizing protests against the construction of an oil pipeline close to the shores of Lake Baikal which resulted in President Putin’s decision to require the oil pipeline to be built a further 200 miles from the shores of Lake Baikal.
The GBT also conducts City Park clean up and restoration projects.
For furthermore information about the Great Baikal Trail organization click here