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La Ruta de los Parques
The Patagonia region of South America, which stretches along the southern reaches of Chile and Argentina, has, for many years now, achieved a reputation as one of the most important and beautiful wild spaces in the world. The diversity of the landscape, from glacial peaks to ice fields to barren, colorful plains, along with the presence of alpine lakes and coastal access, guarantees to ‘wow’ its visitors. But now thanks to conservation efforts, the area has a new reason to celebrate.
Chile has officially launched the creation of a mega hiking and ecotourism route through the Chilean Patagonia region. La Ruta de los Parques, or The Route of Parks, stretches 1750 miles from Puerto Montt, a city about halfway between Santiago and the southern reaches of the country, past the Strait of Magellan to Cape Horn.
The Founding Members
The scenic trail is the brainchild of the Tompkins Conservation group, a foundation that over the last decade has been buying up vast swaths of Chilean wilderness. Founded by Doug Tompkins, creator of the outdoor brand The North Face, and Kris Tompkins, former CEO of Patagonia clothing, the conservation group aims to protect the environment and incentivize the local government to use the land to promote tourism rather than exploiting the land for resources.
Doug, who passed away three years ago in a kayaking accident, entrusted his conservation dreams with Kris, his wife and partner. Kris has, in turn, helped to oversee the expansion of Chile’s National Park system, after donating the land her and Doug owned back to Chile. This contribution of land, about the size of Switzerland, allowed for the creation of five new National Parks. Because of what is now the largest private-to-public land donation ever, the network of trails and land will fully traverse 17 National Parks and 11.5 million hectares of land.
The trail is an unprecedented undertaking. Physically, the area covered by the system of National Parks consumes about one-third of the entire nation of Chile.
This route is set to capitalize on an already booming ecotourism market within the country. In 2016, over half of all tourists visiting Chile came for an outdoor intensive vacation. And in 2017, tourism saw a 14% increase, multiplying the numbers of people hoping to experience a bit of Chile’s nature.
While the route does want to draw tourists and visitors, its purpose is deeper. Ultimately, the Chilean government, along with Tompkins Conservation, wants this project to become the global “benchmark for economic development based on conservation.” By doing so, more than 60 local communities along the trail are predicted to thrive, allowing a more traditional lifestyle to be viable for at least a few more generations to come.
Aside from promoting the health of the communities previously mentioned, the area protects and encompasses 24 ecosystems and seven types of native forest. It is also set to assist in the rehabilitation of endangered and rare species of animal like the Magellanic penguin, southern elephant seal, and pudu.
Those eager to tackle the trail must realize that La Ruta de los Parques would take multiple months to complete through the combination of hiking and hitching boat rides in the southern straits.
Those who do opt to explore some, or all, of the new Patagonian adventure highway, will be met with stunning destinations like Torres del Paine National Park, the new Patagonia National Park, and Mount Fitz Roy, a mountain that once inspired a couple of climbers to start sporting goods companies. Those two were Yvon Chouinard, founder of Kris’s former company Patagonia, and none other than Doug Tompkins.
Chilean and Global Impact
There is little doubt that La Ruta de los Parques will take its place amongst famous trails around the world like the Pacific Crest Trail, the Himalayan Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. The more intriguing story will be to watch the impact of tourism and ecological responsibility on Chile’s economy. Success will help spread the Tompkins’ goal of economic advancement through conservation around the world.
With global environmental agreements, like the Paris Accord, under threat, and governments, like that of the United States, revoking some areas of land from public use, this project is more important than ever to conservationists.