Russian Ecotourism Project Learns from WTA's Model
This summer, volunteers from Russia participated in a work party on the Slab Camp trail. They did so as part of a Sustainable Travel Group dedicated to learning about more sustainable trail practices.
What's the furthest you've traveled to participate in a work party? One hour? Four? Across the state? How about halfway across the world? On August 20, eight volunteers from Russia showed up for the 8:30 a.m. tool talk at the Slab Camp trailhead. They'd arrived at our work party as part of a study tour known as the Sustainable Travel Group.
The overall goal of the trip was to learn the best ways Russian organizations can mainstream sustainability in their tourism industry by studying the ecotourism schemes of the United States. Elena Bazhenova, the project coordinator who arranged the work party and an office visit, explained how WTA made it into the group's itinerary.
"WTA trail parties are well-known. The format of the work parties is super cool, so were very happy to learn more about the organization and experience one of the parties. Some of our participants will try to introduce this scheme in their regions in Russia."
In addition to attending a work party and visiting WTA's Seattle office, the group attended workshops and lectures on sustainability in tourism and social media practices for ecotourism. They also visited an organic lavender farm, Mount Rainier and Olympic National Parks, and got to meet with park service staff.
Preserving natural resources
The organization that received the grant to operate the project is the Russian Ecotourism Development Fund: Dersu Uzala. They promote responsible ecotourism in Russia. Last year, the organization won a grant from the US State Department for a year-long project, which included nine months during which participants visited the United States to see how engaged communities can care for the environmental resources we have.
Eight volunteers joined the work party, but participants from all over Russia who represent the small scale tourism industry and graduate students are learning best practices from this project. They hope to encourage international cooperation between Russia and the US by providing access to the latest research methods and approaches to ecotourism development, and look forward to future cooperation with WTA.
Putting it into practice
Out at Slab Camp with Charlie Romine, the group worked hard, improving the trail for both hikers and stock. The notoriously damp Olympic Peninsula had thrown a lot of drainage obstacles in the way of the crew, but at the end of the day they had cleaned, improved, or built 59 well-camouflaged drainages, and thoroughly impressed the crew leader.
After their trip, Elena emailed WTA to thank us for the office visit, and share what the group thought of their time spent with us.
"The WTA office visit was very thought-provoking and the trail party was the most energizing, sweaty and motivating part of our program!!!"
WTA has a history of partnering with our friends overseas. In 2008, Washington Trails magazine included an article on the formation of the Great Baikal Trails Association, and in 2009, WTA member and author David Williams wrote a piece about his experience volunteering with GBTA the previous autumn.
The GBTA continues to foster relationships with various programs in the Pacific Northwest. They frequently participate as trail builders and interpretive liaisons for the Darrington ranger district of Mt.Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, and they often they send representatives to work and learn with WTA's land stewards. They even participate in local Washington non-profit organizations such as EarthCorps. Two of the participants in the Sustainable Travel Group are affiliated with the GBTA.