Apply Knowledge Globally

New trail construction provides educational and economic opportunities for locals

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO — Visitors from around the world travel to Virunga National Park to visit the Nyiragongo Volcano, an active stratovolcano containing the world’s largest lava lake. The experience is unique and unforgettable, but the climb is steep and long; visitors must spend the night on top of the volcano, making the trip prohibitive for many locals.

Looking to engage local communities and help them experience this incredible site located in their own backyard, Virunga National Park requested technical assistance from the USDA Forest Service to create a new trail with a lower gradient, which would be more accessible for students and inexperienced hikers and allow them to summit the volcano and return home in one day. To educate hikers, the park also requested the development of interpretive trail signs about the park, volcano, flora and fauna.

Last week, a team representing the U.S. Forest Service International Programs office, sponsored by USAID’s Central Africa Regional Program for the Environment, traveled to Nyiragongo to begin work on the new trail, create interpretation materials, and offer trainings to park staff on trail design and maintenance. Trainings in proper trail design, construction and maintenance are important for minimizing the potential environmental impacts of the project.

Members of nearby communities were employed to remove rocks and roots from the original trail, block splinter trails, and add ditches along the trail to control erosion.  The team also identified areas to place trail signs. Supervised by park staff, workers started cutting the new trail. Virunga staff aim to complete the work by the end of the year.

The new trail will provide educational and economic opportunities for local communities near the trailhead. This new trail will also help rangers reduce illegal activities in this area of the park by dissuading the operations of illegal charcoal producers and poachers.

Matt Woodson, Forest Service consultant, checks the GPS to make sure the new trail is headed in the right direction through the brush at Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Forest Service photo by Eva McNamara.