In a ceremony in Chile’s Pumalín Park, American conservationist Kris Tompkins (left) and Chilean president Michelle Bachellet announced the historic expansion of Chile’s national parkland by 10 million acres. Photograph by Jimmy Chin (National Geographic)
Historic Gift from Tompkins Conservation Helps Chile Protect 10 Million Acres as New National Parks
Pumalín Park, Chile – March 15, 2017
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, leader of Tompkins Conservation, signed a pledge to dramatically expand Chile’s national parkland by 10 million acres. The proposal includes what has been billed as the largest land donation in history from a private entity to a country; the total area to be protected, via this private land donation plus government land, is three times the size of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined.
When fully executed, the agreement will create five new national parks — including two crown jewels of Tompkins Conservation’s park creation work, Pumalín Park and Patagonia Park, and the 1 million acres and world-class infrastructure they contain — and expand three others. The Chilean government will contribute nearly 9 million acres of federally-owned land.
With the addition of these dramatic swathes to its holdings, Chile hopes to establish ecotourism as a regional economic driver. The government plans eventually to link 17 national parks into a 1,500-mile tourist route, called the Ruta de los Parques, enticing visitors with rainforest hikes, sea kayaking, mountaineering, camping on the shores of glacial lakes, wildlife viewing, and star gazing. According to a study commissioned by Tompkins Conservation, the expanded park system has the potential to generate $270 million in revenue a year and to employ 43,000 people in the region.
Doug Tompkins, co-founder of the North Face and Esprit clothing companies, used much of his fortune to buy large tracts of land in Patagonia, a sparsely populated region of untamed rivers and other natural beauty straddling southern Chile and Argentina.At first, his purchases of land to preserve swaths of wilderness stirred suspicion and opposition by local politicians, loggers, power companies and nationalists who stirred rumors that he was trying to steal water resources. But he shrugged off the protests, insisting he would eventually return the land to both governments to be preserved as nature reserves or parks.
Since her husband’s death in a kayaking accident last year, McDivitt Tompkins had been working non-stop to permanently protect from development the millions of acres the couple acquired over a quarter century.
“I wish my husband, Doug, whose vision inspired today’s historic pledge, were here on this memorable day. Our team and I feel his absence deeply,” she said. “But I know that if Doug were here today, he would speak of national parks being one of the greatest expressions of democracy that a country can realize, preserving the masterpieces of a nation for all of its citizenry.”