The Patagonian Foundation
PO Box 29113 San Francisco, CA 94129 USA

April 24, 2018

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Final Trip Report

View photos from the 2005 Patagonia Volunteer Project -- click here --

Trip Report from Patagonia Volunteer Project
March 12-26, 2005

Torres del Paine National Park, located in Chilean Patagonia, is one of the most visited parks in Chile. In the past 10 years, park visitation has increased from 17,000 visitors to over 100,000 visitors in 2005. The park has a network of trails (many of which are overused and/or inadequate for existing foot traffic) that terminate at small refuges or hostels. The park is visited by a wide range of international travelers (including Australians, New Zealanders, English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Japanese, German, Israelis, Canadians, Americans, and Chileans) and has been internationally recognized by the United Nations as a World Biosphere Preserve.

US/Chile Environmental Cooperative Agreement
In 2005, the Government of the United States of America and Chile reached an agreement on a program of work that will advance environmental cooperation between the two countries in six program areas in 2005 and 2006. This agreement is part of the US Chile Free Trade Agreement. The work program concentrates on the following areas:
  1. building capacity to improve enforcement and compliance with environmental laws and regulations;
  2. encouraging sound environmental practices and technologies, particularly in the private sector;
  3. promoting sustainable management of natural resources including wildlife and protected areas;
  4. increasing/encouraging civil society participation in environmental decision-making;
  5. improving environmental education; and
  6. improving/enhancing/fostering information exchange on a range of issues, including environmental health, climate change, natural disasters, and public-private partnerships.
The Patagonia Volunteer Project was selected as one of the first projects under the new cooperative agreement.

Patagonia Volunteer Project
The Patagonian Foundation, the U.S. Forest Service, the Chilean National Park Service (CONAF), and Fundación Patagonia (an organization based in Chile), joined together to launch this environmental improvement project in Torres del Paine National Park. During March 12-26, 2005, over 30 volunteers from the United States and Chile participated in this pilot program. The focus of the project was to rebuild and re-route heavily used park trails. The work included marking and rerouting trails, removing rock obstructions in the trails, constructing water bars and dips, and widening the trails to Forest Service trail standards. As the volunteers worked, twelve Chilean park rangers from Torres del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins National Parks received training in trail building and maintenance from specialists with expertise in park maintenance and management from the U.S. Forest Service and the Consortium for International Protected Area Management (CIPAM). The training included classroom assignments and hands-on field work.

The volunteers and park staff worked on over several miles of heavily used trails. While working on the trail, the volunteers and Forest Service staff had an opportunity to discuss the Patagonia Project with many international hikers, many of whom were extremely interested in the project and thankful for our efforts in improving the trail. In two weeks, the volunteers dramatically improved the quality of the trail. Pictures of the trail work can be seen on TPF’s website,

Using the generous donations of its volunteers and donors, The Patagonian Foundation was able to, among other things:
  • purchase trail tools for use by the volunteers, which were then donated to the park staff for future use;
  • cover the travel, room and board costs for all volunteers;
  • cover the costs of all thirteen Chilean park rangers participating in the training program;
  • fund the two instructors for the five day trails training program; and
  • pay a Chilean cinematographer to record and interview many of the volunteer and ranger activities for purposes of creating a documentary and promotional video of the project.
Forest Service Technical Support
The Forest Service promotes sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation internationally, providing technical support and leadership for protected area management worldwide.

Rather than simply a trail maintenance project, the Forest Service and CONAF designed the Patagonia Project Volunteer Expedition to build capacity for environmental protection and community economic growth by providing training opportunities and creating partnerships between volunteers, park managers, local communities, non-governmental organizations, universities and business. The project included community involvement, private sector participation, training to improve public administration, and engagement of civic and economic organizations to ensure broad-based participation and support for protected area management.

While in the park, the Forest Service also worked with park officials to develop design guidelines for the “built environment” including bridges, interpretive sites and visitor centers. Because of the recent wildfire in the park, the Forest Service provided advice on watershed protection and fire rehabilitation. Together with CIPAM, the Forest Service led the intensive trails training course attended by CONAF rangers from throughout the Magallanes Region.

US Embassy Support
Before leaving Chile, the volunteers on the project met for over one hour with the US Ambassador to the Republic of Chile, Craig Kelly, and Jacqueline Ward, Second Secretary for the Environment and Natural Resources Officer. Ambassador Kelly was very supportive of the work in Torres del Paine. He recommended that The Patagonian Foundation continue to concentrate its efforts on the heavily used trails in the park and also recommended working with CONAF on signing and interpretation along the trails.

Other Support
From Within The Park
The project received additional support from a number of private entities within the park. The Explora Hotel and Hostería Lago Grey donated the box lunches for the volunteers and the CONAF rangers participating in the training seminar. Vértice, the refuge where the volunteers stayed, provided discounted rates for room and board and helped us celebrate the end of the pilot project with a wonderful banquet with smoked salmon, wine and pisco sours. Refugio Lago Grey also offered volunteers discounted rates for room and board on one of their days off. The guide service Big Foot Patagonia offered volunteers discounted rates for their popular ice hike on Glacier Grey. Finally, Hielos Patagonicos, the company that runs the catamaran across Lago Pehoe, donated a round trip ticket to each volunteer.

From the United States
The Patagonian Foundation received financial support for this project from a number of sources, and we sincerely appreciate all of them. We would specifically like to recognize L.W. Lane, Jr. and David and Jennifer Blickenstaff for their generous support. In addition, we would like to thank Patagonia, Inc. (the clothing company) for donating the time and services of an employee for an eight-week internship with TPF. Finally, TPF would also like to recognize the Forest Service, International Programs and the University of Montana for covering Michael Olwyler’s expenses. The American Hiking Society provided operational support. This project would not have been possible without any of you!

What's Next?
The Patagonian Foundation looks forward to working with the U.S. Forest Service and CONAF to provide additional volunteer opportunities to work on the trails in the Torres del Paine National Park and other trails throughout Chilean Patagonia. We envision these trail projects as international partnerships between TPF, CONAF, the U.S. Forest Service, and the many other organizations and businesses that donated resources to the project. One of our primary goals is to increase Chilean participation in these projects through university programs and/or by creating a scholarship fund to finance their volunteer expenses. We are also working on other exciting projects. Please consult our website for news and further information.

Trip Brochure (pdf) | Final Trip Report | Photo Gallery