How an unprecedented gift built a legacy of conservation in South America

An enterprising wealthy couple had a dream: Buy millions of acres across Chile and Argentina, then donate them to create new parks.

A guanaco, the wild form of the llama, arrives to drink at Laguna Seca in Chile’s Patagonia National Park. The 750,000-acre park combines public land with private property donated by Tompkins Conservation.

‘It was a desperate time. Doug never got over it.’

Kris McDivitt Tompkins sits before a coffee table covered with colorful maps of Chile and Argentina, talking about the controversy in the early 1990s that swirled around a place called Pumalín, in southern Chile. Pumalín was the chastening early experience that showed her and her late husband, the retired businessman and adventurer Doug Tompkins, how hard it could be to convert Yankee dollars and good intentions into landscape protection in South America

Beyond the coffee table, beyond the maps, beyond the big windows of this handsome stone guesthouse, built like an aerie atop a small hill, stretches a vista of rolling grasslands, tumbling streams, forests of southern beech, and midnight blue lakes: the stern natural glories of Chile’s Patagonia National Park, another Tompkins project.

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