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April 24, 2018

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News and Updates
U.S. Volunteers to Help Recovery Efforts in Torres del Paine

Santiago Times
By Zachary McKiernan and Catalina Carretón (

(March 15, 2005) Volunteers from the United States and Chile departed Santiago on Monday for the Torres del Paine National Park to restore hiking trails and help recovery efforts following the forest fire that burned 16,000 hectares.

The park will be the first beneficiary of the new Patagonia Volunteer Expeditions Project, which is sending 25 volunteers from the United States to assist Chileans in the environmental work.

Inspired by a Patagonian trekking experience, Rich Tobin of the United States Forest Service (USFS) began an effort three years ago to coordinate a bilateral conservation project between the two countries. The Free Trade Agreement signed in 2003 gave momentum to Tobin’s vision. "The world has one Torres del Paine. We have one world. Let’s get to work," Tobin said Monday at the inauguration of the Patagonia Volunteer Expeditons Project.

Carlos Weber, director of the National Forestry Corporation (CONAF) said that the relationship between government and the private sector was extremely important to Chile’s environmental conservation.

Thanking the U.S. volunteers, Weber added, "We need the experience that you have."

The U.S.-Chilean project was spearheaded by USFS, CONAF and private foundations. Public and private sectors of the United States and Chile, working together, brought the project to fruition. The goal of the Patagonia Volunteer Expeditions Project is to "facilitate sustainability," starting with Chile’s national parks.

The defining moment of his three-year journey was "the people and organizations that made it (the project) possible are finally coming together today," Tobin said.

Two important contributing organizations from the private sector are the U.S.-based Patagonian Foundation and Chile-based Fundación Patagonia de Chile, headed by Scott Perryman and Marcelo Díaz.

The park’s annual operating budget of US$30,000 (excluding ranger pay) is stretched thin to accommodate the 100,000 yearly visitors.

To maintain sustainability of one of Chile’s national treasures, the volunteer group will raise park funds, promote environmental education and coordinate work trips. The Torres del Paine experience will be used as a pilot in developing future endeavors.

. The volunteers are the backbone of the project. The present group includes experienced trekkers, retired professors and environmentally conscious citizens. Chileans from Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, Region XII, will join the U.S. volunteers.

Ultimately, the goal of the Patagonia Volunteer Expeditons Project is to become a self-sustaining group.

The project will eventually send Chilean volunteers to U.S. national parks.

"Without volunteers, these types of projects cannot be possible," Díaz said.