The great legacy of Tompkins for Chile
Douglas Tompkins was ahead of his time. Enamoured early on with nature and all it has to offer, he arrived to Chile in the 1960s as a young man to go camping and to climb Fitz Roy, that mountain that faces both Chile and Argentina deep in Patagonia. The friends who traveled with him on that trip, like him, all later became influential businessmen.
From his interest in the outdoor life, he gained an understanding of the need for a transformation in outdoor gear to make it more comfortable when out in nature. He made his fortune in this niche and did not hesitate to invest those resources in what for him was the most essential thing of all: preserving nature on our planet for future generations.
He returned to Chile in the 1990's at a time when few people were talking about biodiversity; they had just begun to think about climate change and the Kyoto Protocol of 1998 was still a long way off.
I met him when I was the public works minister, we discussed the Carretera Austral, and later when I was president, he proposed donating 80,000 hectares (197,684 acres) to create a national park
with the hope that the army would contribute another 80,000 hectares and the state an additional 100,000 hectares (247,105 acres). Thus Corcovado National Park was born, hosting that majestic volcano of the same name on the shores of the Pacific, where the long Andean mountain range plunges into the sea.
I remember the suspicions and misunderstandings when he arrived here. What is this foreigner trying to do, buying lands that are supposedly destined only for preservation? What is his business that he has to buy a globally unique temperate rainforest, with 4,000-yearold alerce trees, to build a Pumalín Park? His pioneering activities enabled Chile to begin to understand the forest wealth that it had, much of it in near virgin condition, and what was necessary to conserve.
That was the great legacy of Tompkins, a legacy better understood after his death. Now, the Chilean government will receive Pumalín Park as a donation, along with several other of his properties, and will have the responsibility of continuing the work that Douglas Tompkins began, that is, to be capable of promoting the enjoyment of nature while at the same time preserving it. To understand that during our lifetimes, we don't own the planet but rather are brief tenants with an obligation to take care of our environment and protect it for future generations. To learn to do this well is the lesson that Douglas Tompkins has left us.
Parque Nacional Corcovado. ( Photos: Antonio Vizcaino/ América Natural)