Chile has officially created five new breathtakingly beautiful national parks, and expanded the boundaries of another two, protecting huge swaths of remote and rugged Patagonia.
The designation is largely down to the tireless efforts of US philanthropists Doug Tompkins and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, who have donated the largest amount of private land to a government ever seen before. McDivitt Tompkins donated 1 million acres of private land which, along with her late husband, she has been spending the last 25 years buying up and restoring.
On Monday, this was matched by a further 9 million acres as the Chilean president Michelle Bachelet signed the sprawling parks into law.
“With these beautiful lands, their forests, their rich ecosystems, we… expand the network of parks to more than 10 million acres,” Bachelet said in a statement. “Thus, national parks in Chile will increase by 38.5% to account for 81.1% of Chile’s protected areas.”
The American couple has spent decades – and hundreds of millions of dollars – working to conserve land and the wildlife that it contains from exploitation and degradation in remote regions of Chile. It has not been without difficulty as Doug, who founded The North Face, and Kristine, who was CEO of outdoor brand Patagonia, came up against tough opposition from locals who saw the pair simply as foreigners buying up their land and preventing them from using it for logging or grazing.
“The [parks] are born out of blisters and headaches and very difficult work—physically, politically, in every way,” said Kristine. “To get this done ...is nothing short of a miracle. But miracles are just a product of hard work.”
Together they created the not-for-profit organization Tompkins Conservation, which is working with locals to help preserve and “rewild” the area the size of Switzerland, providing jobs and income. While the 10 million acres is not contiguous, President Bachelet has also announced plans to create a network of parks that link up a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) tourist trail across the country.
The move cements Chile’s reputation as being at the forefront of conservation and environmental protection, particularly as it follows on from the creation of one of the world’s largest marine reserves surrounding Easter Island.
The protection of the vast tracts of land is the culmination of decades of work for the Tompkins, although unfortunately Doug never got to see the final outcome as he died in a kayaking accident in Chile in 2015. Kristine, however, has pushed on with the handover of the protected areas, following the vision that nature does not need to be useful or exploited, but has its own intrinsic value and beauty.