Early last year, while driving Chile’s Carretera Austral, I photographed this bumper sticker – plastered onto the back side of a highway sign – denigrating environmental philanthropist Douglas Tompkins in hopes that he would get out of Patagonia, where he helped create new protected areas in Argentina as well. While small, strong opposition to Tompkins came from local and even national government officials, and even some paranoid nationalists who even imagined that he was a Zionist.
In a sense, Tompkins’s opponents got their wish – “Patagonia without Tompkins” – when the North Face founder died Tuesday after a kayaking accident on Lago General Carrera (pictured above), a short drive north of the Parque Patagonia created by his widow Kristine McDivitt Tompkins. Ironically, in a 2012 interview in which he defended his conservation activities in Chile and elsewhere, Tompkins made the comment that “This is where I am going to croak.”
I met Tompkins a few times, but never really got to sit down and talk with him, though I did have an extensive interview several years ago with Kris Tompkins about Parque Patagonia and their other properties. Given their legacy with Parque Pumalín and similar projects, there may never be the “Patagonia without Tompkins” that his detractors hoped for.
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On Tuesday, before hearing of Tompkins’s death, I paid a brief visit to Argentina’s Parque Nacional Monte León, on the Atlantic Coast of Santa Cruz province. This was another Tompkins/McDivitt project, created by purchasing the Estancia Monte León sheep farm from its owner Silvia Braun (pictured below with her husband, Juan Kuriger).
Silvia belonged to the Braun-Menéndez wool-growing dynasty but, in my contacts with her, she was something of a free spirit. While donating the park to the Argentine government, the Tompkinses retained a small section that includes the former big house as what is now Hostería Monte León. There, Silvia was contented to tend her organic garden as a Tompkins employee, so long as it let her remain in a place she loved – living in the simple trailer pictured here.
Sadly, the same day that Doug Tompkins died, I learned from Silvia’s husband that she had also died several months ago. While I didn’t know her really well, I always looked forward to seeing her at Monte León, where “Patagonia without Silvia” will be as much an oxymoron as “Patagonia without Tompkins.”