1997. The modern idea of building a trail around Lake Baikal was conceived, as was fitting and proper, on the shore of Lake Baikal itself. At this time the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was working on the project “Bed and Breakfast and Baikal.” By this point, the idea of a trail circumnavigating Baikal had been mentioned a few times. One particular advocate was Oleg K. Gusev – a famous writer, photographer and scientist – who worked at the Barguzinsky Reserve for over thirty years and was instrumental in forming the Baikal-Lensky Reserve. After visiting the Appalachian Trail in the United States, Gusev realized that creating a similar system of trails at Lake Baikal might also help its preservation. The Irkutsk traveler and writer Valentin Bryanskii also had promoted the idea of a circular trail around Baikal since the 1970s.
1998. The project "Bed and Breakfast and Baikal" continued on. The idea was simple: to create a network of private homestays and “micro-hostels” to receive the tourists hiking the path around the lake.
In 1999, the Great Baikal Trail project was presented at international exhibitions in Scotland and Holland. The idea was also discussed at a seminar for the representatives of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Ulan-Ude. In April 2000, it was presented at the International Conference on Ecotourism in Brazil.
In June 2000, Andrei Suknev made a presentation about the Great Baikal Trail project to representatives of the World Bank, the U.S. Forest Service, Greenpeace, and the leaders of environmental agencies in the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia. This presentation met with a lively response from the deputy chief forester of the Lake Tahoe watershed, Ed Guy. Ed was familiar with the Tahoe Rim Trail, a similar system of trails at Lake Tahoe.
In 2001, Ed Guy organized a trip of senior officials from the U.S. Forest Service to Lake Baikal. The goal of this trip was to create a project of mutual exchanges to begin the practical implementation Great Baikal Trail.
In 2001-2002, a logo was designed for the multipurpose project Great Baikal Trail.
Summer 2002 ...Who would have known that at this time, during that summer, a dream would come true for many travelers to Lake Baikal through the creation of the Great Baikal Trail. Among those dreamers were Siberians who loved to hike – those such as Oleg Gusev and Valentin Bryansk, whose books many of us read over and over in our youth.
In 2002-2003, the U.S. Forest Service funded a series of exchanges between professionals, trail builders, and representatives from the protected territories around Lake Baikal. At the same time, two organizations – the Federation of Sports Tourism and Mountaineering of the Republic of Buryatia and Baikal Watch in San Francisco, USA – were awarded a joint grant from the Foundation for Russian American Economic Cooperation for the an exchange program to share experience in trail construction. The fall of 2002, specialists from the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, the U.S. Forest Service, and EarthCorps came to Lake Baikal. They fell in love with the Siberian land and our lake. They met representatives of the protected areas and talked about how they go about building trails in the United States. Gary Cook, the director of “Baikal Watch,” made great personal contributions to the Great Baikal Trail project.
In January of 2003, a group of interested people from all around Baikal traveled to the West Coast of United States to discover what it takes to build a trail. In February, after observing American trail building projects; Arkady Kalikhman, Andrei Suknev, Evgenii Mar’yasov, Vera Butorova, Vasilii Sutula, Sergei Baldanov, and Ariadna Reida gathered in the small, quiet town of Carlson City, Nevada to discuss the possibility of building the Great Baikal Trail. Together they decided: “Let’s build!” With the help of volunteers, they would set up international volunteer camps, where people could work, relax and get to know people from other countries and cultures. All of this while building trails on the shores of our magnificent lake. Now that it was decided, it was time to get to work!
In summer 2003, the first six teams of volunteers began work on trail construction with the support of the Baikalsky Nature Reserve, Zabaikalsky National Park, the community organization "Ust’e" from the village Bolshoe Goloustnoe, the club “LAT” from the city of Ulan-Ude, and the NGO "GRIN" School of tourist-environmental education of Severobaikalsk. In its first season, GBT had 136 volunteers. On the Russian side, the volunteers were mostly students, who welcomed the unique opportunity to visit different parts of the lake and do something with their own hands. In autumn, after numerous requests by these students, GBT founded a youth club. Foreign volunteers also came to the club and they, along with Russian students, assisted in the preparation of next season’s projects.
In February 2004, three young people were sent to train at the organization EarthCorps, in Seattle, USA, to gain skills on trail construction and volunteer management. They returned just in time for the 2004 season with GBT. With them came two qualified experts from EarthCorps, who spent three full months helping with work on 15 projects. These were not our only international volunteers. We also had: Josh Hartshorn, Alan Meyer, Alastair Locke and John Green, who all left their hearts with their new friends to ensure that they would return to the shores of Baikal the following year. The year of 2004 was a significant year, as Rotary International ”adopted” 100 km of trail and sent along their wonderful crew leader, Dave Brann, to oversee the project. In addition to this, Baikal Plan in Germany joined up with GBT, sending 100 volunteers to help with trail construction.
2004 was also the year when GBT was incorporated as a non-profit organization. As a nonprofit, it coordinates GBT activities in the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia. Incorporation also allowed GBT to apply for and receive grants. This is how we became the Interregional Public Organization "The Great Baikal Trail.”
In the winter of 2004-2005, the GBT youth club began to travel to local schools to give presentations on environmentalism to children, preparing exhibitions, and most importantly finding young people who wanted to become team leaders and translators. In the spring, GBT organized courses to help young people develop the practical knowledge and skills necessary to become a crew leader, which they would have to demonstrate at the GBT seminar in Listvyanka that May. Meanwhile, the GBT club participated in various events, such as Baikaltour, Winteriada, and Baikal Day. The Ulan-Ude club organized social projects, such as providing Christmas gifts to children in orphanages. As a result, hundreds of children have received gifts at children's homes and rehabilitation centers.
In the spring of 2005, in Ulan-Ude and Irkutsk, volunteers came to help construct paths in city parks. In Ulan-Ude, volunteers built more than 300 meters of high quality wheelchair accessible trails.
In 2005, GBT conducted more than 30 local trail building projects. Further, GBT began sharing its experience with others, including an organization in Kamchatka. Our main international partners included: The Earth Island Institute (San Francisco), EarthCorps (Seattle), and Baikal Plan (Dresden).
In 2005. The Center of Expertise "ECOM" published a popularity rating of environmental NGOs in 2005. ECOM assessed public interest in the activities of 40 national and regional organizations by counting the number of searches in Internet search engines. The leading positions were held by Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Ringing Cedars of Russia movement. The Great Baikal Trail was at 6th place, sharing a place ranking with such organizations as the Baikal Environmental Wave, Center for Russian Environmental Policy, the Moscow Society of Nature, the Environmental Education Center "Reserves", and Sakhalin Environment Watch.
2006. This year we were able to raise the quality of work. We attracted Russian and foreign experts to the project, and widened the geographic area of our work. The projects were interesting and more varied. We also conducted more projects for and with children. As in previous years, we remained involved in urban volunteer work, actively cooperating with the administration of Irkutsk, conducted projects in protected areas, on forest service lands and worked with other interested organizations in the Irkutsk region and in the Republic of Buryatia.
2006 was also marked by the fact that the interregional public organization Great Baikal Trail won a National Award in the field of social volunteering for the 2005 Volunteer Project in Nature Trails. The award was established as an expression of public gratitude and recognition for the voluntary service of society and contribution to the development and support of volunteerism.
2007. GBT is 5 years old! And during those five years: there have been 94 international summer volunteer projects for the creation and reconstruction of trails in the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia; these summer projects involved 1,945 volunteers, from Russia (Irkutsk, Angarsk, Ulan-Ude, Severobaikalsk Usolye Siberia, Ust-Barguzin, Novosibirsk, Barguzin , Tanhoi, Omsk, Barnaul, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Izhevsk, Voronezh and other places) and from abroad (Germany, Australia, Austria, France, Switzerland, England, USA, Holland, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Finland, Scotland , Canada, Spain, New Zealand, Ireland, Hungary, Mongolia and other countries). If we include all of our projects over the years – such as building urban parks and groves, educational projects with schools in rural and urban areas, winter projects, seminars, round tables, etc, then the number of people involved in GBT reaches more than 3000.
In 2008, the organization expanded its projects: in addition to its work with the Pribaikalsky and Zabaikalsky National Parks, the Baikalsky Nature Reserve and the forestry areas, this year, GBT held its first project in Tunkinsky National Park and it organized a training seminar in the territory of the Vitim Reserve in Bodaibo.
As in previous years, GBT took part in a number of urban projects. These projects aimed at restoring parks and groves, landscaping green areas, picking up litter, clearing out old dead trees, building a network of walking paths, digging culverts for draining snowmelt in the spring, constructing bridges across streams, and building benches. These projects actively engaged all interested parties, including students and local residents. An example of such work in Irkutsk is Pushkinskaya Grove Park and the Paris Commune Park. This year also saw work in a recreation area in the Sverdlovsk region, for which GBT had been seeking funds for over a year. We also participated in the events such as "Environmental Hazard Safety Days," "Spring Week of Goodwill," and "Baikal Day."
In 2008 and 2009, GBT members developed a logo for the interregional non-governmental organization "Great Baikal Trail".
2009. In addition to continuing the international summer projects for constructing and reconstructing trails, and constantly conducting educational projects with the GBT club, our organization held seminars: a practical seminar: "Nature Trail Interpretation with Flora and Fauna;" and an international seminar: "Assessment of the Trails in the Baikal region and Prospects for the Development of Environmental Tourism.” Discussion topics included the assessment of trails in the Baikal region and the prospects for the development of ecotourism (standards of construction and reconstruction of trails, trail classification, attracting volunteers, using of international experience, trail interpretation, opportunities for the development of eco-tourism).
In 2010, we continued to pursue social projects. In particular, provided interactive lessons to children in the villages throughout the Baikal region, and worked with children from the Social Rehabilitation Center of Irkutsk. In 2010, we held classes in Tankhoi, Meget, Bolshoe Goloustnoe, and Port of Baikal.
In 2010-2011, GBT volunteers participated in a wide variety of projects. We hosted a variety of educational workshops, interactive games, and lectures on the environment. We have been working on problems involving trail interpretation and writing grant proposals to support this work. Our volunteers travelled to internships and trainings both in Russia and abroad. More information on these activities can be found in our annual reports.
2012. Our Anniversary Year! This year we held 10 international summer projects for building and reconstructing trails!
For 10 years (from 2003 to 2012) we held 180 international summer trail-building projects in different areas of the Irkutsk region and the Republic of Buryatia, attended by more than 4,500 volunteers.
Many paths have crossed, many stories have been told, and this is just the beginning...
Lake Baikal is one of the most unique places on our planet. Its beauty is timeless and its value would be impossible to overestimate. GBT is not only a trail. It is a pathway to an economically and ecologically prosperous future for the region through the precise and well-defined work of people who strive to protect Baikal’s intact ecosystems and to preserve them for future generations. Let's all work together to make this world a little better!