Chile has created two new national parks and expanded three others thanks to 1 million acres donated by former Patagonia CEO Kristine McDivitt Tompkins and another 9 million acres declared national parks by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet.
The total size is roughly the size of Switzerland.
The two new parks — Pumalín National Park and Patagonia National Park Chile — are already open to the public and are now permanently protected for visitors and the wildlife that live there.
The almost 43 percent expansion of national parks in Chile marks the culmination of a more than 20-year effort by McDivitt Tompkins and her now-deceased husband, Doug Tompkins, a founder of The North Face and Esprit clothing companies. The couple spent more than two decades acquiring and restoring land in southern Chile, like the Chacabuco Valley (pictured).
While locals and businesses initially bristled at the American land grab, as the Tompkins Conservation foundation reached out to the community for planning ideas and creating more jobs in the area, tensions generally eased.
The new and expanded parks are intended to be part of the "Route of Parks" initiative, a governmental plan to link 17 parks across 1,500 miles (2,400 kilometers), from Puerto Montt to Cape Horn. The Tompkins Conservation estimates that the initiative has the potential to generate $270 million in ecotourism-related revenue each year and employ up to 43,000 people in the region.