When most of us think of philanthropic causes, we think of some star or celebrity giving a large sum of money to an already famous cause. We read about such things constantly in news articles and on internet websites. But, what happens when a little known couple, with their fingers on the pulse of the environment, choose to spend their millions making a physical difference.
Alright so maybe Doug and Kristine Tompkins are not so little known. As the long time owners of the infamous ESPRIT clothing company, they have been active environmentalists for many years. After selling the company in 1990 they decided to spend their millions reserving natural lands in order to save them from private ownership and development. They started in Southern Chile.
For someone wanting to visit the Tompkin family you must be hard pressed to see them. Pumalin Park, Chile sits on the northern edge of Patagonia in the southern part of Chile. Over 800,000 acres of remote wilderness makes up one of the last virgin wildernesses in the world. The trip takes more than three days and begins with two days worth of plane rides, moves on to a dusty highway, a ferry ride, more dusty highway, a five hour boat ride down a gorgeous fjord, a nights rest only to be awakened to one more boat ride. When you finally land on the muddy beaches and think the trip is over, you are met by a huge tractor with even larger wheels. Through the trees you reach a well-maintained roadway leading up to one of the most beautiful homes one could ever imagine. This is the home of Doug and Kristine Tompkins.
The couples home is as beautiful as their passion to save mother earth. You can hear the anger in his voice when Doug speaks of the ways the Earth is raped of itself every year. “As we see this human project sweeping across the globe, wiping out everything in its trajectory, it’s upsetting,” Doug states. “I don’t want to call it anger, but it’s upsetting and I try to use my ‘upsetedness’ if you will, to get me going in the morning. We are immersed in a serious crisis, and we have to rethink the living arrangements on the planet.”
Though the remote landscape of Pumalin can be enjoyed from every sight and angle, Doug explains the best way to see “his Pumalin” is from the air. Flying over the 800,000 acres Doug has bought to preserve is breathtaking. The park consists of about 60 miles from the north end to the south end and is only 30 miles from the ocean to the Argentinian border. “We are down here in the middle of Pumalin. You have to understand this is like the size of Yosemite National Park here, so t’s pretty big, “Doug explains as he gives the tour over headsets. There is even a volcano on the property and when asked if he purchased that with the land he stated with a touch of irony, Yeah, that came with it.”
Pumalin Park is not the only undertaking for Doug and Kris. Though it is the largest of their parks, they have assembled lands for over 13 others in both Chile and Argentina. Together the couple has purchased over 2.5 million square acres of land, which would have to be true conservation efforts on a scale never seen before.
The parks the couple creates and sometimes regifts back to te countries of origin are not just chunks of land, but hand-crafted beauties full of natural splendor. Each park contains paths made of stone, fences of twigs, signs hand-carved, and immaculate public campgrounds. For all sakes and purposes the coupe is creating their own utopic world.
Preserving Pumalin and their other parks has become a life and obsession for the Tompkinses. It seems to be a surreal task that would never be attempted let alone accomplished by one set of people. In a recent meeting with the Boy Scouts from Santiago Doug was asked, “Are you the King of Pumalin?” and all he could do is stand there agape with awe and flatter. A second boy scout then put a tie around his neck and summed up what its all worth, “We are proud of you, “he said, “because you have created this beautiful park for all the world to enjoy.”
For more information on Pumalin Park please visit www.pumalinpark.org
original story reported by Jeffrey Kofman