Featured at Baikal

Featured Volunteer Opportunity:

Building the Great Baikal Trail

Earth Island is helping build the GREAT BAIKAL TRAIL—which, when completed, will run some 2,200 kilometers around the largest lake in the world! Each summer, dozens of international adventure-loving volunteers work side-by-side with local Russians to build the next stages of this one-of-a-kind trail. For the rest of the year, the GBT sponsors education projects in local villages, where there’s always room for dedicated volunteers! Below you will find more details on the Great Baikal Trail and how you might help out.


Description: Earth Island and its long-term partners at Baikal are now collaborating to build the first national system of trails in Russia.

Earth Island is working closely with the 3 national parks and 4 nature reserves that surround Lake Baikal. Together we have already designed and constructed some 700 kilometers of new trails in and around these protected areas. Some summer projects involve the improvement and maintenance of already-existing trails. Other sections of the GBT are yet to be built, however.

For these new trails, volunteer teams are organized to help clear out and construct bridges, switchbacks, signs, campsites, etc. Starting in 2019, the GBT will begin designing the first accessible pathways for individuals with disabilities or impairments.

Each group is international: an equal mix of local Russians with foreign participants. Team size will vary according to project, usually ranging from 12-17. Project sites also vary from year to year, with locations that include:

  • Zabaikal’ski National Park, where, each year, trails are improved and extended to connect the Holy Nose Peninsula, the Barguzin Mountains, the Chivyrkui Wetlands, and the wooden Siberian village of Ust-Barguzin (home of the park headquarters).
  • The Baikal’ski Nature Reserve, where, every year, crews work on interpretive trails that radiate out from the local visitor center, along the lake-shore, and up into a popular grove with waterfalls.
  • The northern shores of Baikal, where local activists and teachers continue to recruit GBT volunteers, enabling them to connect the railroad town of Severobaikal’sk with a number of sandy beaches and local parks along the upper rim of the lake.
  • Pribaikal’ski National Park, where the GBT has built a popular trail from the port town of Listvyanka to the native Buryat village of Bolshoye Goloustnoye (don’t worry about pronouncing this—even the locals call it BG). Beyond BG, it passes a restored Russian orthodox church right on Baikal’s shores, and then heads northwards to 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


What to Expect along the Trail

Trail Habitats 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: most of these areas are very temperate and dry during the summer).

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

Travel: Lake Baikal is relatively remote. Flights to Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude (via the European Russia or the Far East) run daily, although we encourage international volunteers to take the 3-day Trans-Siberian train trip from Moscow. Entry from China or Mongolia via train is also possible for those coming from a southerly or easterly direction.

Duration: Each volunteer team works for two weeks on one project site. Anyone can join several teams in a row and extend his/her volunteer placement. Most teams work during summer months, although most years the GBT schedules at least one early-autumn project, for those who want a taste of the clear and crisp weather for which Siberia is renowned.

Age and other qualifications for volunteers: Each participant must be 18 or older, with one exception: every summer there is a special family project, where parents with younger children can join similar Russian families working along the GBT. It is helpful (but certainly 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 is spent outdoors, working with heavier tools. Training in the use of this equipment is provided on-site before work commences. Project leaders also lead a course in wilderness first aid for all participants.

Language: Some knowledge of Russian is 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; in addition, at least one Russian-English interpreter is assigned to every mission.

The 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 scope out various sites for trails. Volunteers with trail-building or team-building skills may be asked to help strategize and otherwise design each pathway. In so doing, they can help us provide information and recommendations for volunteers to effectively and enjoyably spend their time at each site.

Accommodation: Fieldwork will involve overnights in modern GBT tents, where the volunteer provides sleeping bags. Home-stays and beds in the GBT hostel can be arranged while volunteer is en route to the field (note: we always tend to avoid the posher hotel scene in Russia).

Cost to participate: Earth Island Institute will charge no fees for referral or placement on any of these trail-building projects. 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. In addition, international participants are asked to cover their own travel costs to reach Baikal where they will join their volunteer teams. After that, Earth Island, the GBT, and the local national parks will cover all other costs at each project site. For more information on costs, please refer to the GBT site.

Travel costs: Flights to Siberia from Europe typically range upwards of 600 Euros. From other parts of Asia and Oceania, costs range around US$1000. From the western hemisphere, flights cost @$1,500 in the summer, and winter trips are generally less expensive. You can count on spending @$30 for home-stays or hostels when not in the field. These costs (as well as any additional travel insurance) are the responsibility of each participant.

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

Application: An application is required, and should be submitted 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 website here.

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

Earth Island Institute
Baikal Watch program
2150 Allston Way
Berkeley, California, 94704, USA
Tel.: 1-510-717-1805
baikal “at” earthisland.org.