There’s one simple reason why 2020 is the year you should join us on our popular annual fundraising hike in Dilijan National Park:
It’s the very last time we’ll be running it!
We also wanted to let you know why – and to do that, let us tell you why we chose Dilijan as the focus for our efforts in the first place.
After exploring and mapping Armenia’s existing trail network in 2016, we were totally convinced of Armenia’s potential to become a world-class hiking destination.
We’d also realised what a huge amount of work we’d need to do to re-open its network of ancient trails and build connections between them.
Of all the regions we’d explored, Dilijan National Park had the biggest network of existing trails, most of which dated back to the Soviet era when the national park was established. But in reality, most of these ‘trails’ were on muddy jeep tracks, mostly unmarked, and with zero maintenance. This wasn’t the pleasant and safe hiking experience we wanted the Transcaucasian Trail to be – as confirmed by countless anecdotes from lost and muddy hikers.
And it was a shame, because the forested mountains surrounding Dilijan – the ‘Little Switzerland of Armenia’, as it’s sometimes called – were some of the most picturesque in the country, abundant in wildflowers in spring, gorgeously golden in autumn, and with a pleasantly cool summer climate that had for decades brought visitors in their droves to escape the stifling heat of Yerevan.
Not just that, but Dilijan was – more than anywhere in the country – the region already best known for trail hiking.
With visitors already coming to the park to hike yet leaving disappointed, we decided that rebuilding the trail network in Dilijan National Park would be a good first step towards realising our vision for the Transcaucasian Trail in Armenia.
The following spring, with snow still on the ground and before we had any confirmed funding for the work, we were sending trail designers into the mountains to piece together the puzzle of new and existing trails that would create a complete loop of the national park.
It was an ambitious-sounding goal – an 85km itinerary passing all of the park’s cultural monuments and natural habitats – but we were convinced that, if we could muster the people and the funding and then work our asses off, it would be possible.
A huge boost came when we were donated the use of a building in Dilijan by the Armenian Relief Society. It needed a lot of work, as it had lain empty for many years, but a couple of months of cleaning and renovating transformed it into a ‘trailbuilding HQ’ in the heart of the national park.
The next thing to do was to find volunteers to lend their hands to this huge effort.
Over 50 people – from Armenia and from around the world – descended upon Dilijan for a chaotic but fun summer of trail-building, campfires, mosquito bites, frayed nerves, and new friendships – including one that would eventually lead to a wedding!
We were privileged to have the leadership of Hans Keifer, a professional trailbuilder from California with Armenian ancestry, to train and guide our ‘small army’ as they carved out the new connecting trails that would bring this envisaged network to life.
Two months later than planned (and somewhat over budget), we eventually completed the final connection in October after almost six months of planning, preparation, and good old fashioned toil.
Since 2017, participants in our previous supporters’ treks on this route have been helping raise funds to maintain and improve this trail network based on feedback from hikers.
This year, as well as routine maintenance, we’ll install a final batch of signposts and trailhead information boards at key points on the trail, build two new bridges, and blaze extensions to the original route in each direction – the final pieces of infrastructure needed to declare the Transcaucasian Trail in Dilijan National Park complete.
But trails will always need annual maintenance. So why is 2020 the last year we’ll be running our supporters’ trek on this route?
The reason is actually very simple.
The funds our participants raise is fantastic for opening up new routes, because we can use those funds for the kind of pioneering work whose value isn’t yet clear to other funders.
Once a trail network becomes established, however, there are other ways of raising funds via the growing number of hikers using those routes. Guesthouses and guides could pay a small commission on referred customers. Businesses could sponsor volunteers to form local trail clubs. In the case of Dilijan, the national park could actually do some trail maintenance. In reality, a combination of these and other ideas is most likely to succeed.
But what we don’t want to do is compete with local tour operators who are starting to offer treks on this stage of the Transcaucasian Trail – because, like the guesthouses and guides and other local businesses who’ll find opportunities along the trail, we have ultimately built it for their benefit.
So from next year onwards, we’ll be taking our supporters on new and unexplored sections of the Transcaucasian Trail, raising funds to repeat the trail creation process in other parts of Armenia and work towards our long-term vision of a single, interconnected route.
What does this mean for you?
It means that this summer is your very last opportunity to join the team who built the trails in Dilijan National Park, hike this pioneering route with us, and hear the story of the years of work it took to create it!
Click here for all the details on how to join us for the last ever Transcaucasian Trail supporters’ trek in Dilijan National Park – and we hope to meet you very soon!