Kristine McDivitt Tompkins
“It is impossible to separate out decades of going on adventures from the profound — and I think permanent — emotional, mental, and physical identification we grew to have with wild nature,” says Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, one the most influential wilderness protectors in modern history. “I think the willingness to fight for beauty, for wildlife, and ‘a wild life,’ all come out of our origins in the mountains, on rivers, and in the sea.”
Tompkins, the former CEO of Patagonia, and her late husband Doug, the co-founder of The North Face, devoted their lives to protecting wild places. Over the past two decades they helped conserve 3.4 million acres of pristine land in Chile and Argentina with the goal of creating a series of national parks — accomplishing far more than slow-moving governments and non-profits and despite plenty of local skepticism and pushback. Along with her husband, Tompkins climbed peaks in the Himalaya, paddled remote rivers, and set new rock climbing routes in the Sierra. After Doug died unexpectedly in a 2015 kayaking accident in Patagonia, Kris’s resolve only solidified.
“When Doug died so abruptly I was tossed into a bottomless pool of grief,” she says. “What has been borne out of this is a kind of fierceness that hasn’t changed my life, but rather amplified it intensely. I shed my skin and began another life carved out of Doug’s absence. Now I’m afraid of nothing.”
In March, Tompkins made a big move. Through her foundation Tompkins Conservation, she donated a million acres to the Chilean government. In turn Chilean President Michelle Bachelet agreed to include 10 million acres of federally owned land for national park designation. The agreement expanded three existing national parks and will create five new ones, establishing a park corridor stretching 1,500 miles to the tip of South America, Cape Horn.
“People need to get up every day and do something that has nothing to do with themselves,” Tompkins says. “I hope they work in conservation or activism, but, really, just do something.”