Creating Patagonia – How an American Couple Saved the National Parks

Courtney Nachlas November 14, 2019 0

Patagonia is known for its stunning lakes, breathtaking glaciers and adorable guanacos, but few individuals know the history behind Patagonia’s national parks. It turns out, it may have a lot more to do with the popular Patagonia and North Face clothing brands than you might think.

In 1993, Douglas Tompkins, founder of North Face and Esprit, and Kristine Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia, got married and moved to South Chile full time. In the same decade, they spent over $345 million towards buying hundreds of thousands of acres in Patagonia. Falling in love with the vast landscapes and abundant wildlife, their goal was to preserve the land.

© Helder Brandão de Oliveira

Over the last 25 years, rumors circulated as to why two wealthy Americans would be purchasing huge plots of land throughout Chile and Argentina. Some believed they were working for the CIA, while others thought they were developing a secret religious site in Patagonia. Though there was much speculation regarding what two Americans were doing with chunks of land in South America, their plan was quite simple: give the land away.

Until very recently, Kristine Tompkins owned Patagonia National Park, half a million acres of breathtaking landscapes. This year, the park was officially transferred to the Chilean government, becoming part of the largest private land donation in history.

© Jennifer Bravo

When asked why they decided to turn the land into national parks, Kristine Tompkins compared the landscape to a priceless work of art.

“If you buy a Picasso and you hang it in your living room, your friends can see it, your family can see it. But that’s really it,” she replied. “If you buy the same Picasso and you put it in a museum in New York City, millions of people will see that Picasso. Well, national parks are the same thing. We think it’s important that the masterpieces of a country belong to everyone,” Kristine said in an interview with CBS news.

© Helder Brandão de Oliveira

Together with the Chilean and Argentinean governments, along with various conservation organizations, the Tompkins family has been able to protect approximately 14 million acres of land by helping turn them in to 11 national parks, including Corcovado National Park in Chile and Monte León National Park in Argentina.

Their work, however, does not stop there, as the Tompkins Conservation group continues to work with locals on wildlife recovery and conservation strategies. Their goal is to recover healthy populations of all native species, including jaguars, huemuls (South Andean deer), pumas and giant anteaters.

© Helder Brandão de Oliveira

Doug Tompkins passed away in 2015 from a kayaking accident in Patagonia Park. Though his loss was felt worldwide by adventures and conservationists, Kristine continues to work towards their vision of preserving and restoring these landscapes through conservation education and welcoming people into the national parks. Their story is very much a love story, one with each other and one with the land the Tompkins family has dedicated their lives to protecting.

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