Great Baikal Trail Weekly Meeting /
Болшая Байкальская Тропа, еженедельная встреча
The Great Baikal Trail is one of the most successful NGOs in Russia; founded only 10 years ago in 2002, GBT has succeeded in building and cataloging hundreds of kilometers of trails all around the Baikal region using the help of over 4500 volunteers. If you come to Irkutsk in the summer you may want to check out some of GBT’s trails and spend some time hiking along Lake Baikal. SRAS also partners with GBT to offer a way to study the language intensively and spend some time volunteering with the organization. Regardless of the season, GBT’s weekly meeting on Thursdays is an excellent way to meet locals and hear about the current status of environmental projects in the Baikal area, as well as offering an opportunity to get travel advice for whatever trips you have in mind.
Because GBT is almost entirely a volunteer organization with essentially no full-time staff, these weekly meetings are extremely important for the organization and are completely open to the public. At these meetings, current progress on trail-building and public awareness projects are discussed and decisions are made as to which future projects to undertake. While most of the talking is done by a fairly small group of dedicated volunteers, even complete newcomers are welcome to join, and on days when there are large numbers of first-timers the regulars are usually quite willing to give a summary of GBT’s activities. There are also complimentary snacks and tea, and occasionally short films about GBT’s upcoming activities are shown.
One caveat is that all of these activities are conducted entirely in Russian — while many of the volunteers speak English reasonably well and can translate for you, this will slow down the meeting considerably and you may feel like a nuisance. Another caveat is that the office, like many things in Irkutsk, is quite difficult to find. Most people assume that Ulitsa Lapina ends at Ulitsa Timiryazeva, yet if you look south next to Tserkov Bozdvizhenie you’ll see a small, rocky dirt path going steeply uphill into a cluster of shacks. This is in fact an extension of Ulitsa Lapina, and if you scramble up the hill and past the shacks you’ll actually find yourself next to a small office park. GBT is corpus V, you’ll see their logo on the door.
Apart from the weekly meetings, GBT’s space at Lapina 43V also serves as a venue for other activities. At present, there is a regular English-language movie night on Wednesdays, and occasional lectures, classes, and exhibits are also hosted. You can learn about these events by asking people at the weekly meetings and also by getting on the GBT email list. GBT’s office also serves as the local office of the Tahoe-Baikal Institute, another environmental organization working in the Baikal area (and SRAS’ partner in a prestigious environmental science program). Regardless of your specific interests, the GBT meetings are a great way to meet locals and learn about interesting upcoming events.