In the largest ever private land donation to a government in Latin America, the one million acres composing Parque Pumalín has been given to Chile. Inspired by the gift, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed an agreement to place Parque Pumalín, as well as 10 million acres of federal land under environmental protection.
The massive area (three times the size of Yellowstone and Yosemite put together) will now be designated for national parklands. “Today, we are bequeathing to the country the greatest creation of protected areas in our history,” said Bachelet in a speech.
The sprawling valleys of Parque Pumalín were originally patched together 25 years ago by two American conservationists, Doug Tompkins and Kris McDivitt Tompkins, as part of their legacy of “wild lands philanthropy”. It was their vision to preserve the lands from the sweeping industrial development consuming much of Chile, where mining is a major factor in GDP and national exports.
Parque Pumalín is located in the X Region of Chile, and extends from the Andes to the Pacific Coast. It is home to rich wildlife, including virgin temperate forests, endemic species, glacial mountains and waterfalls. Kris, former CEO of the major sportswear company Patagonia, spoke of her late partner Doug’s dedication to the region. Doug passed in 2015 in a kayaking accident.
“I wish my husband Doug, whose vision inspired today’s historic pledge, were here on this memorable day”, she said in an address to hundreds of environmental enthusiasts at the entrance of the new national park. “National parks exist in almost every country in the world. God knows what form they are in, but they exist everywhere. Some of them are battered, some are ill-funded, probably most. But they exist. And by and large, that holds the firmest, most consistent possibility for longevity in terms of terrestrial conservation.”
The motion is a first step toward uniting Chilean national parks in what will be called the “Route of Parks”. The extraordinary natural beauty of Chile is cherished by outdoor enthusiasts and world travelers. The project will organize the previously informal tourist route of Chile, spanning 2,400 km. A better system for tourism will stimulate the economy and create jobs in park maintenance and hospitality. “This is unprecedented and will become one of the most famous routes in the world, connecting up communities and bringing new economic activity to each region,” said Kris Tompkin.
Yvon Chouinard, Founder of Patagonia, was present for the event. “That puts Chile right up there with Costa Rica in terms of the percentage of protected lands,” he said, speaking excitedly about the Tompkin’s work. “No other human has ever created this many acres of protected wild lands [through private philanthropy] and he did not do it with the stroke of a pen. These are tourist-ready parks with trails and cabins and infrastructure.”