Creating a National Park in Patagonia: All a Part of the Job at Patagonia

Holiday 2007

The holidays are a time to give – and a time to give back. Thirty-odd years ago, when we borrowed the evocative name Patagonia for our new clothing company, only a few of us had been there. It seemed a faraway name, like Timbuktu, at a time when the world still had faraway places.

Now that we have come to know the planet as exceptionally small and delicately balanced, many of us from Patagonia the company have come to know Patagonia the place.

Kris Tompkins, one of our first employees and our longtime CEO, moved to Chilean Patagonia in 1993, to a farm called Fundo Renihue at the end of a fjord. Through their family foundation, The Conservation Land Trust, she and her husband Doug purchased nearly 800,000 acres of temperate rainforest and created Pumalin Park, an area nearly the size of Yosemite National Park. In 2000, Kris founded Conservación Patagónica to protect and restore critical habitat in the Patagonia region – a semi-arid and arid area heavily damaged by 100 years of overgrazing by livestock. During the last 15 years the Tompkins have put nearly two million acres of important habitat into some form of permanent protection between Chile and Argentina.

In 2003, Conservacion Patagonica, in conjunction with Patagonia, Inc. and other like-minded conservationists, purchased the Estancia Valle Chacabuco, a 173,000-acre ranch in the heart of the Chilean Patagonia region. The valley has been the number one conservation priority for the Chilean National Parks for over 30 years.

The Valle Chacabuco includes grasslands, steppes, southern beech forests, high peaks, wild rivers, wetlands and a large lake on its southern boundary. It’s home to all of its original species, including the nearly extinct huemul deer, puma, lesser rheas, guanaco and the four-eyed Patagonian frog.

Restoring this land required the removal of over 20,000 sheep, 3,000 head of cattle and the 400 miles of fences that contained them. Much of the labor for fence removal has been provided by Patagonia, Inc. employees. It’s a hell of a commute: a 16-hour flight to Balmaceda, followed by a bumpy six-hour truck ride down a dusty road that leads to one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. To date, 50 of us from all parts of the company and at all levels of pay have traveled in groups of six to spend three weeks removing fencing, weeding, demolishing nonessential structures and building a visitor center.

Helping to restore Patagonia to health is our way of giving back to the place that gave us our name.

Our commitment is ongoing: We’ll be sending several groups a year during fair weather (our winter) until the work is completed. Some of our friends and customers are also going down to work and help out under the auspices of the Patagonian Foundation (not affiliated with us), which you can look up at patagonianfoundation.org.

Once the restoration work is completed and the construction of the park infrastructure is finished, Estancia Valle Chacabuco will become the centerpiece of two pre-existing Chilean National Reserves, Jeinimeni and Tamango. Combining the three conservation areas together, the nearly 650,000 acres will one day become the new Patagonia National Park, creating a world-class park with full public access infrastructure.