It just got whole a lot easier to decide where to take your next vacation. Yesterday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and philanthropist Kristine McDivitt Tompkins signed decrees designating Pumalín National Park and Patagonia National Park Chile, two new national parks in the rugged and breathtakingly beautiful wilds of Patagonia.
The designation of the parks, which span a million acres and are being billed as the largest donation of privately held land in South America, is the culmination of a pledge signed by McDivitt and Bachelet last March. That pledge called for the addition of five new parks and expansion of three others to grow Chile’s national parkland by 10 million acres, or more than three times the area of Yosemite and Yellowstone National Parks combined.
In addition to the two national parks designated yesterday, nine million acres of federal land are being contributed to the effort from the government of Chile, according to a press release.
“With these beautiful lands, their forests, their rich ecosystems, we…expand the network of parks to more than 10 million acres,” Bachelet said in a speech Monday. “Thus, national parklands in Chile will increase by 38.5% to account for 81.1% of Chile’s protected areas.”
McDivitt, the former CEO of outdoor apparel company (and Crusading Brand) Patagonia, made the land donation by way of Tompkins Conservation, a diverse set of conservation initiatives launched decades ago by her and her late husband Doug Tompkins. Doug Tompkins, who died in a tragic kayaking accident three years back, also happens to be the founder North Face and Esprit because this is a story straight out of an outdoor adventure group’s fanfic club.
It’s also a story that comes with controversy: Per The Guardian, some local ranchers and loggers have viewed the efforts of McDivitt Tompkins and her husband to acquire and “rewild” lands as an American land grab, even staging protests in one of the Tompkins’ parks last year.
“They have erased our history and there is no pardoning that,” Patricio Ulloa, mayor of the town of Cochrane, which borders on Parque Patagonia, told The Guardian. “They have never shown any evaluation that truly shows how this is going to benefit the community.”
Ulloa declined to show up to the launch of the new park.
According to National Geographic, the new national parks will ultimately be linked via “Ruta de los Parques”, a planned 17-park network that’ll run 1,500 miles down the spine of Chile, from the city of Puerto Montt in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the south. The route will allow visitors to experience the best of Patagonia, from glacial lakes to lush rainforests to whitewater waterfalls and active volcanoes.
The designation of the new parks—and the emergence of the broader Ruta de los Parques network—also cements Chile’s standing as a global leader in conservation, and, the country hopes, a hub for eco-tourism.
Let’s just hope it can be both of those things while also engaging the locals who’ve lived on these lands for generations.