Exploring Patagonia National Park, Chile
We can all make a difference, one habitat at a time, says Christopher Wilmot-Sitwell
‘Our time is now: what one thing will you do for beauty, for health, for wildlife, for love?’
Visit Patagonia National Park in Chile and you will see these inspirational words inscribed in the visitor centre built at the edge of the park by Doug Tompkins. They stayed with me as I explored just part of his extraordinary legacy in the Aysen District of Chilean Patagonia, a wilderness of unimaginable beauty and scale preserved for us by one man’s imagination and ambition. While Doug Tompkins sadly died in a kayaking accident back in 2015, his enduring legacy shows how each one of us can make a difference.
The Tompkins Conservation donated its private nature reserve to the Government of Chile in 2018 with the aim of rewilding becoming part of Tompkins’ legacy. And after only four years, the ‘Big Five’ of Patagonia National Park are already thriving. Condor, puma, guanaco, rhea and huemul (Andean deer) are all protected and, in the case of the puma, are now monitored by the very man who was employed by the estancias to hunt them.
As a climber and outdoorsman, Doug was passionate about equal access. Today, hundreds of miles of fencing have been torn down and the land is open to all. Unless you see a place and understand its beauty and its value, there is little incentive or understanding of how best to protect it. Such was his conviction that national parks were the answer and, happily for Argentina and Chile, these countries became his blank canvas.
The Tompkins Conservation, with its partner NGOs in Argentina and Chile, has now conserved 14.2 million acres, equivalent to the size of the US States of New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut combined.
The philosophy behind this philanthropy sees national parks and the use of them as crucial to human values. Protected areas are an act of humility and are the tangible result of activism and an embodied form of love for our fellow travellers. But they need travellers to make them work on an economical level so if you visit Patagonia National Park you’re supporting its protection.
National parks have been established over 150 years for their scenic, ecological, recreational, scientific and patriotic values. As we come out of the pandemic, with so many habitats threatened by a lack of investment, by poaching and by human encroachment, there is belief amongst conservationists that wild places and creatures have an intrinsic value. They deserve the freedom to be for their own sakes. However, they will not enjoy this right unless we visit them, support them, appreciate them and invest in them. As we say at cazenove+loyd, ‘travel is precious’. We can all use it wisely but travel we must and travel we should.