It’s been a busy 2023 – we’ve been hard at work this year and are excited to share news and updates from this field season with you!
We’ve spent the past few months training new trail crew leaders, hosting volunteer programs, organizing international exchanges, leading supporters’ treks, and connecting with hikers along the trail. This month, we finally had the chance to regroup after the busy summer, discuss lessons from the field season, and strategize ways to continue improving the TCT in 2024.
From October 30 – November 4, we hosted our very first (hopefully annual!) TCT Trail Summit – a rare chance for the whole team to meet in person and learn from each other.
For a week in Tbilisi, we brought together TCT team members from across Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, along with close partners from Trails For Change NGO, HIKEArmenia, and the U.S. Forest Service, for strategy discussions, planning, and team-building.
For many, this summit served as the first opportunity to meet other team members in person, which created a deeper sense of community and shared commitment among the team as a whole as we work together to develop the TCT. We’re proud to be one of very few organizations in the Caucasus that are not only working in all three countries of the South Caucasus, but also fostering active collaboration around a shared mission and values.
Our goals for the week were simple:
- Learn from each others’ success and challenges during this year’s field season
- Discuss and prioritize new ideas that will help us move towards our goal of a world-class long-distance trail across the Caucasus
- Have fun together and strengthen the cross-border relationships that make the TCT such a powerful project
This summit would not have been possible without the generous support of the Trust For Mutual Understanding foundation, through a grant supporting international exchange along the TCT. Thank you to TMU for enabling us to come together for such a meaningful and productive week!
Throughout the week, we discussed the successes achieved and challenges faced during the most recent field season, explored ideas for how we can continue to improve the ways in which we serve TCT hikers and local communities along the trail, and collectively designed our vision for 2024.
Over the next year, we plan to focus on:
- Expanding the scope of our Caucasus Conservation Corps (CCC) program and building new partnerships.
- Improving our information systems to better meet the needs of different types of hikers– ranging from families out for a day, to guesthouse-to-guesthouse hikers out for a week, to thru-hikers traversing the region for months.
- Continuing to grow the community outreach focus of our work, which is key for the long-term success and community benefits of the trail – but often challenging in a region where the concepts of trails and hiking for recreation are still relatively new.
A major focus of this year’s work– and our team discussions during the summit– was our growing CCC program in Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia. The CCC, supported by the U.S. Forest Service and implemented jointly with Trails For Change in Armenia, is our flagship program that aims to connect and inspire young conservation leaders from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan through outdoor work and training.
In 2023, we:
- Hosted the first-ever 10-day Wilderness First Responder course in the Caucasus, during which 20 crew leaders from Georgia and Armenia learned about wilderness medicine and how to respond to emergencies in the backcountry
- Trained new trail crew leaders from Georgia and Azerbaijan
- Led local volunteer trail crews in trail building and maintenance projects along the TCT in all 3 countries
- And established an international exchange program between Armenian and Georgian trail crew leaders.
Throughout 2024, we’ll continue hosting international exchanges for trail crew leaders and volunteers so participants can learn from one another and have the opportunity to form connections with like-minded young adults from across the region.
One of the CCC’s main goals is to train young people with relevant skills to set them up for success. Over the next year, we will be working to expand the job training aspect of our CCC program by not only educating young people about trails and conservation, but also by encouraging English language learning and enabling collaborative learning opportunities between our participants and other environmental organizations.
We’re excited to bring our ideas into fruition, and hope you’ll continue to support us as we continue this journey to create, improve, and spread the word about the TCT. We look forward to sharing more news with you about our work this past year. Stay tuned!