Twenty-five years ago, when my husband, Douglas, bought the first property that would eventually help to make up what is today Pumalín Park, he had an idea—an idea so audacious that the reaction to buying land in order to conserve it incited speculation and doubt among Chilean society. Tompkins Conservation and Chilean society have both come a long way since then. Last month President Michelle Bachelet and I gathered at the southern entrance to Pumalín to sign an historic protocol that committed TC to our donation of just over one million acres of our conservation land in Chile and committed the government to contributing an additional nine million acres of federal lands into national park status.
As might be imagined, it was an emotional day for me, for our team, and for our friends and partners. As Yvon Chouinard related to me afterward, “there wasn’t a dry eye in the group, including me, and I never cry!” It was also an emotional day, I think, for the President and her team working on this effort. It is the largest public/private national parks collaboration agreement in history, and there is no doubt that this would not have taken place if President Bachelet and her team were not our partners.
Personally, I thought about Doug as I signed the Protocol Agreement, and his singular ability to think big and his courage to as he often said, “Commit then figure it out.” I thought about the TC teams of people there witnessing this great day, many of whom have been working with us for over twenty years. They are the ones who carved these parks into being—every hiking trail, every building, the planning, all taking place in tough weather conditions, often with at least some level of suspicion focused on them for their work. This takes a strong belief in what you’re doing to hold course and see these kinds of projects through to their rightful end.
I thought about what it means to put ten million acres of forest, grasslands, bogs, and coastline under permanent protection, and all of the known and unknown species that call these places their home. To be leading this effort gives me an intensely felt sense of gratitude. I am grateful to Doug for his unstoppable vision and am wildly proud of everyone on our team from Chile, Argentina, and the U.S. who never gave up on these big ideas that began twenty-five years ago.
We still have a few hurdles to jump over, but we are on our way.