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The 21st Century Teddy Roosevelt

North Face co-founder Doug Tompkins has an ambitious goal: to donate 12 national parks in Chile and Argentina

Doug Tompkins on the first ascent of Chile's Ruta de los Californianos in 1968. Cerro Fitz Roy, Chile. (Chris Jones)

North Face co-founder Doug Tompkins has an ambitious goal: to donate 12 national parks in Chile and Argentina

Starting in 1991, Doug Tompkins, co-founder of the North Face and Esprit, has bought two million acres of strategically placed land in Chile and Argentina through several of his conservation foundations. Pumalín Park, his cornerstone project, is 726,488 acres of Andean peaks, endangered stands of alerce trees, and coastal fjords just south of Puerto Montt. But this playground is a fraction of the larger vision that he shares with his wife Kristine, the former CEO of Patagonia. From the wetlands of northeastern Argentina to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, the couple is slowly rewilding their foundation’s properties where needed, building trails and park infrastructure, and working through bureaucratic red tape to join forces with existing federal preserves to create a total of 12 turn-key national parks, four of which they have already donated to Chile or Argentina.

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(Courtesy of The North Face)

Their latest project a is the future Patagonia National Park, 200,000 acres of a former sheep ranch sandwiched between two existing federal reserves in the Chacabuco Valley in Chile’s least-populated northern Patagonian Aysén Region. It's so remote that many of the surrounding 7,000-foot peaks remain unnamed. The handover to Chile is still years away, but they have already submitted their proposal to the government and have built elegant infrastructure that includes two campgrounds, a six-bedroom lodge, a restaurant, a visitor’s center, and employee housing. Patagonia Park may not be an official national park yet, but it is open to guests. With 38 miles of hiking trails, whitewater paddling on the nearby Baker River, the opportunity to see an elusive puma, and a restaurant that serves organic meals like asado grilled lamb and greens straight from the organic garden out back, the time to visit is now.

After a three-day visit to Patagonia Park, I interviewed the elusive Tompkins at the Adventure Travel World Summit in Puerto Varas to learn more about his Roosevelt-esque vision.

OUTSIDE: Why are you creating National Parks in South America?
TOMPKINS: National Parks are the best expression of social equity that there is. It’s like paying our rent for living on the planet.

I was prepared for the beauty of the wilderness, but the buildings are as impressive as the landscape. Why such grand and gorgeous infrastructure?
If you take guys like Exequiel Bustillo, the architect who designed the early park infrastructure in Argentina, or the great American architects, these guys had a vision that thrust the national park idea into the public eye. We want to echo the grandeur of these great traditions. Once we establish an architectural style in each park we stick with it religiously and comprehensively so that it comes out as a gestalt.

When will you hand over Patagonia and Pumalin Parks to Chile?
We’re well in transition. It’s very complicated when you are reorganizing territories under different ministries. We have to get them all together and transfer jurisdictions. It’s a bureaucratic slalom course we have to ski through, but it can be done. We’ve done it already.

When you first started buying land in the early 1990s Chileans were very suspicious of your motives. Has that changed?
Conservation is not without its critics and opposition. That’s how it is. There are a lot of special interests that don’t want to see land set aside without the extractive possibilities, whether it’s miners, foresters, agriculturalists, or pastoralists. It’s best not get worried about it and persevere on a good steady course that makes sense and wins you allies.

What is your ultimate goal?
We hope to make 12 national parks before we keel over. We’ll have to see whether we can do that.

Do you still have time to get outside?
I don’t have the time. That’s the trouble. But on my 70th birthday my old buddies Yvon Chouinard, Rick Ridgeway, and Jib Ellison came down and we paddled the Baker River. We’re all going out for another paddle this year, just for old times’ sake, to keep our hand in there and get a little bit of muscle tone.

Filed To: Gear / Exploration / Patagonia
Nicolas Henderson/Creative Commons )

San Marcos, Texas

Billed as the world’s toughest canoe race, the Texas Water Safari, held each June, is a four-day, 260-mile jaunt from the headwaters of the San Marcos River northeast of San Antonio to the small shrimping town of Seadrift on the Gulf Coast. There’s no prize money—just bragging rights for the winner. Any boat without a motor is allowed, and you’ll have to carry your own equipment and overnight gear. Food and water are provided at aid stations along the way. Entry fees start at $175 and increase as race day approaches.

The Ring

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(Courtesy Quatro Hubbard)

Strasburg, Virginia

The Ring is a 71-mile trail running race in early September along the entire length of Virginia’s rough and rocky Massanutten Trail loop. To qualify, you need to have run a 50- or 100-mile race before the event and win a spot through the lottery system. Entry is free. Complete the run and you’ll become part of the tight-knit Fellowship of the Ring and be eligible for the Reverse Ring, which entails running the trail backwards in the middle of winter.

Plaza2Peak

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(David Silver)

Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each spring, competitors gather in Santa Fe’s historic plaza with a simple goal: be the first to reach 12,308-foot Deception Peak, 17 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation gain away. Competitors run or bike the first 15 miles to the local ski area before transitioning to their waiting ski-touring setups for the final push to the top. Time stops only when they’ve skied back down to the tailgate in the resort’s parking lot, which is funded by the modest entry fee of around $25. To add to the sufferfest, some participants sign up for the Expedition category, in which they strap their skis, skins, boots, and poles to their bikes for the long ride up. Start dates vary depending on snow conditions, but look for the event page to be posted on Facebook in late March or early April.