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How a Land Donation from North Face and Patagonia Moguls Led to Chile’s New 1,740-Mile Hiking Trail

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Eco-philanthropist Kristine Tompkins is heading and funding a project to create Patagonia National Park in this pristine landscape in southern Chile. Melanie Stetson Freeman—Christian Science Monitor/Getty

Visitors to Chile can now take a very long hike—the 1,740-mile Patagonian Route of Parks, which has just opened.

The route takes in three existing hiking routes, but the idea of linking them into one contiguous route was made possible by land donated by Tompkins Conservation, the foundation of former Patagonia (the outdoor clothing company) CEO Kristine Tompkins and her late husband, the North Face and Esprit co-founder Doug Tompkins.

The pair bought many hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Chile and Argentina, starting in the 1990s, with the purpose of conserving it. Doug Tompkins died in 2015—in a Chilean kayaking accident—but in March 2017 Tompkins Conservation donated 408,000 hectares of land to the Chilean state, to spur the creation of five new national parks.

The Chilean government responded by redesignating over 2 million hectares of reserves as national parks, and the result is now the Patagonian Route of Parks, which takes in 11.5 million hectares across 17 national parks.

“We want Chile to be internationally recognized for having the most spectacular scenic route in the world, and thus become a benchmark for economic development based on conservation,” Tompkins Conservation executive director Carolina Morgado told the BBC.

Meanwhile, Kris Tompkins’s former company is fighting the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump over its decision to shrink national monuments in Utah—a development that could open them up to drilling and mining.

Having declared to customers last year that “The President Stole Your Land,” Patagonia has sued the government over the move, claiming that presidents do not have the authority to reduce national monuments.