Creating a National Park
In addition to performing the many tasks required to run a successful outdoor clothing company, Patagonia employees are helping to create a new national park. To date, about 50 have traveled in groups of six to Chilean Patagonia – the company’s namesake – to spend three weeks digging out fence posts, rolling up wire and removing nonnative plants.
The subject of this ambitious transformation process is Estancia Valle Chacabuco. The nearest town of any size is Cochrane, population 4,000. From Patagonia headquarters in Ventura, California, it’s a 16-hour flight to Balmaceda, followed by a bumpy eight-hour truck ride down a dusty road that leads to one of the world’s last great wilderness areas.
Like many other large landholdings in Patagonia, this estancia was used to raise sheep and cattle. It’s a business that takes a heavy toll on land and wildlife, with erosion, logging, road- building, fire and the introduction of exotic plants species. But in 2004, former Patagonia CEO, Kristine Tompkins, bought the estancia through the nonprofit foundation, Conservación Patagonica, with the aim of restoring and permanently protecting it.
Along with the grassland that has supported large herds of livestock, the estancia’s 173,000 acres include magnificent steppe, southern beech forests and high peaks. Rivers, wetlands and a large lake on its southern boundary also make up this highly unusual landscape, which is home to more than a hundred fauna species, including nearly extinct huemul deer, guanacos, and the four-eyed Patagonian frog.
Restoring the land means removing the 20,000 sheep, 3,000 head of cattle and 340 or so miles of fence that contained them. Workers are dismantling nonessential structures and building a visitor’s center and other essential infrastructure. The park will soon be powered with energy derived from renewable sources.
When completed, the former estancia will serve as a vital link between two existing pieces of wild land: Chilean National Reserves Jeinimeni and Tamango. Combined, their nearly 650,000 acres will one day become Patagonia National Park, providing a connected and protected corridor for wildlife and a world-class wilderness for posterity.
Patagonia’s commitment to this project is open-ended; new groups of employees will go down every year. Though maybe not the most economical way to remediate a remote landscape in a country with low labor costs, the project serves several functions, including connecting employees firsthand with the wildness that inspired the Patagonia brand.
“We talk a lot about what our logo depicts: vast landscapes, wild, varied weather, harmony with wilderness,” said Lu Setnicka, director of training and employee development. “To be able to be there and get a sense of that spirit is invaluable in communicating our brand heritage and identity.”
The project also gives employees the opportunity to experience what it takes to restore a degraded landscape and affords them time away with colleagues from all parts of the company, which creates a greater sense of camaraderie amid several weeks of work, play and travel.
“We have such a great group of people who work here. It was tremendous learning more about their wonderful personalities, quirky attributes and unique spirits,” said Lu, who went on one of the early trips. “Through this experience, we’ll probably be joined at the hip for years.”
For more information on the effort at Valle Chacabuco, to volunteer your own time or to contribute financially, please visit: conservacionpatagonica.org
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