Kristine Tompkins and her late husband started buying and conserving land in South America more than two decades ago.
Over the years, the couple — who had run the clothing companies Patagonia Inc., North Face and Esprit — had a hand in conserving more than 3.4 million acres of land in Chile and Argentina, personally investing $345 million in park projects and philanthropic work.
Now, Tompkins, a California native, is donating 1 million of those acres to Chile as part of an agreement with the Chilean government to expand the country's national parkland. That park space is three times the size of Los Angeles.
Under the agreement, signed Wednesday by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, the government is kicking in an additional 10 million acres of federally owned land for national park designation, according to the Tompkins Conservation.
"Like most big ideas, to achieve them there must be partners who share the vision, those who can imagine a place or time a hundred years from now and do what is necessary to create something spectacular, something that will withstand the test of time," Tompkins said in a statement. "And this we have found in the partnership with President Bachelet and her government."
The agreement will expand three national parks and create five new ones, including the Pumalin and Patagonia parks, two crown jewels of the Tompkins Conservation's park creation work.
Under the agreement, Melimoyu Park will also be designated as a national park, while Cerro Castillo and Alacalufe reserves will be reclassified as national parks. Meanwhile, the Hornopirén, Corcovado and Isla Magdalena national parks will be expanded, said Tompkins Conservation spokeswoman Alison Kelman.
With national park status, those lands will receive the highest levels of federal protection, Kelman said. The designations still require the approval of Chile's National Congress.
The proposal would create a network of 17 national parks stretching across more than 1,500 miles from Puerto Montt down to Cape Horn. A popular destination for hikers and campers across the globe, the region is known for its stunning landscapes.
Tompkins, the former CEO of the Patagonia Inc., moved to Chile in 1993 with her husband, Doug, who founded the outdoor clothing retailer North Face and the apparel company Esprit. He died after a kayaking accident in 2015.
"I wish my husband Doug, whose vision inspired today's historic pledge, were here on this memorable day," Tompkins said in a statement. "He would speak of national parks being one of the greatest expressions of democracy that a country can realize, preserving the masterpieces of a nation for all of its citizenry."