Following the largest land donation in history—protecting 11 million acres as national parks in Chile and Argentina—the Chilean government is honoring Doug Tompkins, conservationist and the founder of The North Face. It was announced Tuesday the first park purchased and donated by Tompkins will now bear his name: Pumalín National Park – Douglas R. Tompkins.
While the creation of these additions to public lands has made news in the years following Doug Tompkins’ death in 2015, the story started decades ago—when Tompkins found himself climbing and exploring the backcountry of North and South America. He founded the California Mountaineering Guide Service at age 20, and borrowed $5,000 to start a company called The North Face a year later. (The Grateful Dead played at the first store opening.) Tompkins established a new climbing route up the famed Fitz Roy mountain with Yvon Chouinard (the founder of Patagonia), and in 1968, he started clothing company Esprit—selling clothes out of the back of a Volkswagen bus, and topping $100 million a year in sales just 10 years later.
After selling their companies and leaving the business world in 1989, Tompkins and his wife, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, focused their efforts on land conservation in the Patagonia regions of Chile and Argentina. In 1991, Tompkins purchased an abandoned farm in the Palena Province of Chile to protect the Valdivian temperate rain forest, high peaks, lakes, and rivers on the 42,000 acres of land. Over the years, Tompkins joined with The Conservation Land Trust (a U.S. environmental foundation) to purchase more land and expand it to 994,000 acres. The land was officially designated as Pumalín Park, and the Fundación Pumalín (a Chilean foundation) was created to continually develop this land as a national park that allows public access under a private initiative.
In the decade since his death, Tompkins’ contribution to existing public lands has become unparalleled. After purchasing and donating Pumalín Park, the Tompkins’ continued to buy swaths of land surrounding the area and made it their mission to conserve Patagonia. And it worked. What began as a 994,000-acre nature sanctuary became 11 million acres of donated private land to create public national parks.
In January, Kris Tompkins—the founder and CEO of Tompkins Conservation—and Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed the largest national park donation in history, and sealed in Pumalín Park as a permanent cornerstone in the “Route of Parks”—a group of 17 parks spanning more than 1,500 miles from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn in Chile. That’s why President Bachelet declared on Tuesday that Pumalín Park will now bear the namesake of its founder and be officially known as Pumalín National Park – Douglas R. Tompkins. But for the Tompkins Conservation legacy, this designation simply ignites her continued mission to keep preserving nature.
“We never imagined that this conservation partnership, between the government of Chile and Tompkins Conservation, would generate the overwhelmingly positive reaction at a national and international level that it has,” Kris Tompkins said in an official statement. “However, now is when the real work begins. We have to embrace these national parks as our own. We have to care for them, defend them from harm.”