When Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing) left the business world in 1989 and moved to Chile to purchase land for conservation, he wasn’t seen as hero. He and his wife Kris McDivitt Tompkins (former CEO of Patagonia, Inc.) were viewed with suspicion. But Doug and Kris were committed to not only protecting, but also restoring the magnificent and fragile ecosystems of Patagonia. In Pumalín, they purchased land that held Chile’s greatest concentration of alerce trees (cousins of our redwoods), and in the gorgeous Chacabuco Valley, they acquired a massive estancia (ranch) that had been heavily overgrazed. With the help of volunteers, fences were torn out, hiking trails were created, and beautiful park buildings were built. Thousands of alerce trees are now protected in Pumalín, and the “rewilding” of Parque Patagonia in Chacabuco has seen the numbers of native puma steadily rising. More than a million acres of land in Patagonia have been protected and restored over the past 20 years.
In a moving ceremony held in Pumalín on March 15, 2017, nearly a year and a half after Doug passed away, Kris Tompkins fulfilled their vision and donated the land to the country of Chile—the largest land donation in history from a private entity to a nation. Kris and Chilean president Michelle Bachelet also signed a pledge to create 11 million acres of new parkland (the Chilean government plans to add 10 million acres to Tompkins Conversation’s donation). The combined Chilean land now pledged for national parks is three times larger than Yosemite and Yellowstone combined, and the government plans to eventually link the 17 national parks into a 1,500-mile route called the “Ruta de los Parques.” The conservation groups involved in Chile’s new endeavor follow the same philosophy that Doug Tompkins instilled in his life’s work: “no detail too small”.
Parque Patagonia, one of the parks established under Tompkins Conservation and hailed as “South America’s Yellowstone,” is the scene for our newest adventure, Patagonia’s Wild North. WT adventurers will be among the first to hike its trails and marvel at the majesty of the park’s surreal landscapes (and stunning wildlife) and will play a crucial part in supporting the conservation of this spectacular region. Wilderness Travel is also a donor to Tompkins Conservation.
If you’ve ever traveled in this region or seen the dramatic photos of Patagonia’s wild fjords, glaciers, and valleys, you may agree with Tompkins Conservation—and now the nation of Chile—that this magnificent realm is worth protecting.
—Text by WT writer Kirstina Bolton. Photos provided by Tompkins Conservation. To learn more about the Tompkins Conservation, visit www.tompkinsconservation.org.