Millionaires With a Mission

We see a volcano from above, and when asked whether he purchased it, Doug said, "Yeah, that came with it."

Doug says those last words with just a hint of irony. Not only did he buy active volcanoes, he also bought glaciers and dozens of lakes. South America may be the only place where land like this can be bought on a scale like this.

Conservation on a Grand Scale

Most of Pumalin, a 400,000-acre parcel, was purchased from 150 heirs of a Spanish conquistador who was deeded the land almost 500 years ago.

With deep conviction, and even deeper pockets, Doug and Kris have assembled land for conservation on a scale never seen before. Pumalin is now just the biggest of 13 parks they have created in Chile and in Argentina.

Together the Tompkinses have bought almost 2.5 million square acres of land, about the size of the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. They've already gifted two parks, one in Chile and one in Argentina, so their current holdings are about 2 million acres or 3,300 square miles.

"Well it's peanuts," Kris said. "Compared to the number of acres that are transformed and destroyed every year, it's peanuts. If you weigh it against what's being saved on an annual basis versus what's being destroyed, we are on the losing team."

Count Pumalin as a big win for the losing team. The mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes here are unique, a temperate rain forest, similar but not the same as parts of Washington state and British Columbia. Three hundred days of rain a year, which add up to 20 feet of rain a year.

Natural Splendor, Hand-Crafted Beauty

There may be other parks in Latin America that rival Pumalin for its beauty, but it is hard to imagine any other park south of the U.S.-Mexican border with better or more beautiful facilities.

In this isolated region with chronic poverty, Doug is creating his own utopian world -- a South American Walden Pond where natural splendor is complimented by handcrafted beauty.

No detail too small: paths made of stone, fences of twigs, signs hand-carved, public campgrounds immaculate. And nine Hobbit-like cabins for visitors. Pumalin isn't just about preserving wilderness, it is about living in harmony with nature.

Doug is intense, driven, obsessive and self-deprecating. He is a curious fusion of Henry David Thoreau and Charles Lindberg with Martha Stewart's eye for detail. But at his core, he is a deeply committed environmentalist.

In one valley he shows me an organic farm that creates local employment and maybe one day, revenue to sustain the park. There are bees for organic honey. Organically raised sheep. And red currants, raspberries, blueberries for organic jams.

"We can have beauty," he said as we toured Pumalin by air and foot, "and we can have production that's clean, that produces a good product and is friendly to the environment."

In another valley ravaged by clear-cutting and failed efforts at farming, Doug is working to bring back the wilderness. Pumalin has its own tree nursery, nurturing species unique to the region.

He points out a three-inch-high Alerce seedling, a cousin to the California Giant Sequoia. Given a chance, it will grow to be 3,000 years old, and if Doug has his way it will do just that. He approaches environmental issues with the same single-minded focus he once had in business.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...