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Featured Volunteer Opportunity:

The Great Baikal Trail

Earth Island and its Russian partners are helping build the GREAT BAIKAL TRAIL, which, when completed, will run some 2,200 kilometers around the biggest lake in the world! Each spring and summer, hundreds of adventure-loving volunteers from around the world work side-by-side with local Russians to build the next stages of this one-of-a-kind trail. Below you will find more detailed information on the Great Baikal Trail and how you might volunteer.

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Earth Island’s Siberian Volunteer Program: Building the Great Baikal Trail

Description: Earth Island and its long-term partners at Baikal are now collaborating to build the Great Baikal Trail (GBT).

They are working closely with the 3 national parks and 4 nature reserves that surround Lake Baikal, as they design and then construct this, the first Russian system of trails.  When completed, the GBT will lead fully around this magnificent lake, some 2200 kilometers (1280 miles) in all.

Some 500 kilometers of new trails have already been built by the GBT. So some of the summer projects will merely require improvement to and maintenance of these trails. Other sections of the Baikal Trail are yet to be built. In this case, teams will be organized to help construct the bridges, switchbacks, signs, and other accessories for these new trails. Teams of volunteers will be international, with local Russians mixing with foreign participants. Team size will vary according to project, usually ranging from 12-17, with the majority being local activists and young professionals. Project sites vary from year to year, with locations that include:

  • Zabaikalski National Park, where a 40 mile trail extension will be built over several years from the foot of the Barguzin Mountains, along the shores of Baikal, to the eastern edge of the Chivyrkui Wetlands, and then beyond to the wooden Siberian village of Ust-Barguzin.
  • The Baikalski Nature Reserve, where a 10 mile special interpretive trail will be improved from the visitor center near the lake’s shores up into the old-growth forest all the way to a secluded waterfall in the middle of the reserve.
  • The northern shores of Baikal, where local activists and teachers have already helped the GBT build a series of trails connecting the railroad town of Severobaikalsk with a number of sandy beaches and local parks along the upper rim of the lake.
  • Pribaikalski National Park, from the popular port town of Listvyanka north to the native Buryat village of Bolshoye Goloustnoye (don’t worry about pronouncing this—even the locals call it BG), past a restored Russian orthodox church right on Baikal’s shores, and then onwards to some of the most popular campgrounds on the hills above the lake.

For more information on each project site, please visit the GBT web-pages at: http://greatbaikaltrail.org/en/projects/summer

Trail Habitats will include: Lakeshores and beaches (for some of the best lake-swimming in the world), steppe-land and rolling taiga, mountain forests, riparian watersheds and other bird-watching paradises, as well as the large island habitat of Olkhon Island (note: all these areas are very temperate and mostly dry during the summer).

Location: The LAKE BAIKAL region of south central Russia, near the Mongolian border.

Travel: Lake Baikal is relatively remote. Flights to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude (via Moscow or the Russian far east) run daily, although we encourage international volunteers to take the Trans-Siberian train, which takes some 3 days of travel from Moscow to reach the heartland of Siberia. Entry from China or Mongolia via train is also a possibility for those coming from a southerly or easterly direction.

Duration: No time limit. Each volunteer team works for two weeks on one project site. Possibilities exist for joining several teams in a row and extending one’s volunteer placement. Most teams work during summer months, although most years we also schedule at least one late-winter/early-spring project, for those who want a taste of the clear and crisp weather for which Siberia is renowned.

Age and other qualifications: Prospective volunteers must be 18 or older.  One exception: each summer there is a special family project, where parents with younger children can join similar Russian families working along the GBT.   In building a trail, it is helpful (but not required) for volunteers to have previous experience (i.e., on other trail-building or related projects). Sound health and a love of exercise are a must, since much time will be spent outdoors, some times working with heavier tools. Training in the use of these tools will be provided on-site before work commences.  Project leaders also provide training in wilderness first-aid to all participants.

Language: Some knowledge of Russian is very helpful, but not required. Likewise for Russian participants, some knowledge of English is often preferred. Volunteer project leaders will be fluent in English and Russian; and at least one of the Russian volunteers already recruited will be bilingual, and hence will be able to serve as a team interpreter.

Work to be done: Varies greatly. Some of it is more physical (not only in the building of trails and campsites, but in replanting trees, setting up interpretive displays, or simply going out into the Siberian outback to investigate various sites for trails, etc.). Volunteers with advanced trail-building or volunteer team-building skills could be asked to help strategize and otherwise design this system of trails, and in so doing, provide information and recommendations as to how volunteers can most effectively, and enjoyably, spend their time at these sites.

Accommodations: Field work will involve overnights in modern GBT tents, where sleeping bags are provided by the volunteer. Home-stays and hostels can be arranged in towns while volunteer is en route to the field—note: we always tend to avoid the posher hotel scene in Russia).

Cost to participant: Earth Island Institute will charge no fees for referral or placement on any of these trail-building crews. However, the Great Baikal Trail Association is a Russian non-profit group, and depends on international volunteers to pay for their own food and incidental costs while at each project site. The GBTA therefore will charge US$450 for every two week project—to be collected prior to the arrival of each volunteer. (Please note: the GBTA receives special annual donations to underwrite these same costs for local Russian volunteers, for whom $450 is a lot of money!) In addition, international participants are asked to cover their own travel costs to reach the field site at Baikal where they will join their volunteer teams. After that, Earth Island, the GBTA, and the local national parks will cover all other costs at each project site.

Travel costs: Flights to Siberia from Europe typically range upwards from US $1,000 (@700 Euros).  From other parts of Asia and Oceania, costs also are in $1000 range. From the western hemisphere, flights cost from $1,500 to $1,800, depending on the season (mid-summer trips are generally more expensive than other flights). On-the-ground costs (food, local transport, etc) before and after the work at the field site will generally amount to @$20 a day, with an added $30 for home-stays and hostels when not in the field—all the responsibility of each participant, as will be any travel insurance.

Whom to contact: Prospective volunteers can communicate directly with Earth Island’s staff at baikal @ earthisland.org, or with the Russian partners at the Great Baikal Trail Association: international-volunteers @ greatbaikaltrail.org—please note: all the GBTA staff are fluent in English, and can communicate with you easily via e-mail.

Application: An application is required, and should be received at least one month prior to the start of the project you want to work on. To receive an application, please write to our GBT partners at the e-mail address given above, or visit the relevant GBT web-site at: http://greatbaikaltrail.org/en/volunteer/form

Also, please feel free to contact us at the coordinates below:

Earth Island Institute
Baikal Watch program
2450 Allston Way
Berkeley, California, 94704, USA
Tel.: 1-510-717-1805
baikal @ earthisland.org.

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