Chile gets huge land donation from North Face widow

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet (left) and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins signed the land donation document at Parque Pumalin, on March 16, 2017

The Chilean government has received a giant donation of private land for national parks from the widow of US philanthropist Douglas Tompkins, co-founder of the clothing brands Esprit and The North Face.

The donation of 407,625 hectares (one million acres) -- the largest ever made in Chile's history -- will become part of Chile's National Patagonia Parks network, officials said.

Tompkins, a billionaire environmentalist, died in 2015 at the age of 72 in a kayaking accident in southern Chile.

The land, which includes forests and flora unique to the region, was offered by Tompkins's widow, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, a former CEO of the outdoor clothing and gear company Patagonia.

McDivitt said she was following her late husband's wishes in making the donation.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet formally accepted the land in a ceremony on Wednesday in the town of Chaiten, some 1,260 kilometers (780 miles) south of Santiago. A presidential decree is still needed to complete the transaction.

At the event, McDivitt said she hoped thd donation "will serve as a model for other countries."

Bachelet's government also agreed to protect an additional 949,368 hectares, resulting in 4.5 million hectares of new parkland in eight regions of the country.

Tompkins and McDivitt moved to the Patagonia region of Chile in 1990 as the country was transitioning to democracy after years of military dictatorship.

The couple was initially met with skepticism and suspicion when they started buying vast tracts of land for preservation purposes in Chile and neighboring Argentina.