New “Friends of the Parks” organization to aid Patagonian parks

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Photo: Amigos de los ParquesPhoto: Amigos de los Parques 

By Zoe Baillargeon
The new Amigos de los Parques de la Patagonia (Friends of the Patagonia Parks) organization celebrated its launch last Thursday with a packed event at the Museum of Visual Arts in Santiago.
“This is a big night for the national parks of Chile,” said Kris Tompkins, one of the organization’s directors and a founder of the initiative, in a speech to the gathering, which included a veritable who’s who from the worlds of Patagonian conservation, science, tourism, and philanthropy.
This year, Chile attracted worldwide praise when it added five new national parks and expanded three others in the Patagonia region. Now, with altogether 17 national parks in Chilean Patagonia, this unprecedented park network is being dubbed the “Route of Parks” and stretches some 1,500 miles (2,414 km), from Puerto Montt in Chile’s Lakes Region to Cape Horn off the southernmost tip of South America. Still, the parks are woefully lacking in infrastructure, accessibility, and above all, the resources and human capacity needed to protect the parkland. CONAF (Chile’s national parks and forest service) currently spends just an estimated 2.1 U.S. dollars per hectare in the nation’s parks.
Amigos de los Parques, through public and private fundraising, will seek to promote citizen awareness of the parks, improve access to the parks, and work with policy-makers to strengthen the Chilean government’s involvement in conservation. In particular, the group’s organizers stress that a main goal will be getting Chileans who live near the parks more involved. Local communities are key stakeholders: national parks can often become a major tourist draw that provide an economic boost for nearby towns, hence they have a direct interest in ensuring parks are well-maintained and protected.
“Amigos de los Parques understands that a robust system of national parks is the best alternative to preserve our natural heritage, guarantee its access as a public good and contribute significantly to the economic progress of surrounding communities through tourism as a consequence of conservation,” states the organization’s website (
From left to right: Eugenio Rengifo, executive director of Amigos de los Parques; Amigos founder Kris Tompkins; and president of Amigos, Rodrigo Jordan.From left to right: Eugenio Rengifo, executive director of Amigos de los Parques; Amigos founder Kris Tompkins; and president of Amigos, Rodrigo Jordan.
At the event, which kicked off with animated projections of Patagonian wildlife and landscapes and finished with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, the organization’s chairman, Rodrigo Jordan, a mountaineer who in 1992 became the first Chilean to summit Mount Everest, outlined the organization’s mission and values. Jordan also offered special thanks to Doug and Kris Tompkins, who last year donated over a million acres to the Chilean government toward the new Patagonian park network, which includes the Tompkins’ longtime private conservation projects, Pumalin Park and Patagonia Park.
Working alongside Jordan and Tompkins on the board of directors will be Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, Inc.; Carolina Morgado, executive director of Tompkins Conservation; environmental lawyer Macarena Soler; and Myriam Gómez, executive director of Imagen de Chile, a public-private organization which promotes Chile abroad.
After being welcomed by Jordan, Kris Tompkins, who recently was designated by the United Nations as their first-ever “Patron of Protected Areas,” took the stage and gave an impassioned speech about the power of national parks and how they can benefit communities, countries, and the world.
“We have seen many times that when citizens become focused on these [parks], they see a national pride that is invisible but powerful and it transcends time,” Tompkins said, calling Amigos de los Parques “the perfect union between public participation in the protection of the parks, and the development of local economies.”
“Tonight, we will remember that Chile, once again, took a step forward and created innovative models that contribute to society and nature,” she concluded to loud applause.