Torres del Paine receives special funding for improvements

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Torres del Paine Legacy Fund volunteers hard at work on a new trail. Photo: Eric LeeTorres del Paine Legacy Fund volunteers hard at work on a new trail. Photo: Eric Lee
 
 
By Zoe Baillargeon
 
Trekkers on the Macizo Paine Circuit will soon be seeing some new upgrades to the trail.
 
The Macizo Paine (or O) Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, which connects both ends of the popular “W” trekking circuit and loops behind the Paine Massif, will be getting some much needed improvements thanks to winning a large grant from the European Outdoor Conservation Association (EOCA), a grouping of companies that funds conservation projects at outdoor adventure destinations around the world.
 
“There’s so many places where the trail needs to be improved, and since we’re already working on the front end of the W...this was the next priority spot in terms of damage to a fragile ecosystem and [tourist] visitation,” says Emily Green, director of Torres del Paine Legacy Fund, which submitted the proposal.
 
The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund, a nonprofit that collaborates with local and international tourism businesses as well as CONAF, Chile’s national parks and forest service, works on conservation and sustainability projects in Chile’s most popular park. In recent years, among other projects, the group has been behind significant efforts to replant lenga trees and improve the trail infrastructure between Paine Grande and Camp Italiano by adding wooden boardwalks.
 
 
Repairing boardwalk. Photo: Project EudaimoniaRepairing boardwalk. Photo: Project Eudaimonia
 
 
The funds, which amount to about $26,000 euros ($30,040 dollars), will primarily go toward improvements on the trail around Refugio Dickson in the form of treated lenga wood boardwalks to prevent erosion and the destruction of flora and fauna from the thousands of hiker’s boots that descend on Torres del Paine each year (more than 264,000 people in 2017). Green estimates that the money will be sufficient to build approximately 170 meters (557 feet) of boardwalk.
 
But the funding will also support essential research on Torres del Paine’s wetlands, especially near Refugio Dickson, located near the start of the John Gardner Pass, and interpretive signage along the trail to educate hikers about these prolific ecosystems.
 
“There’s just not that much information if you don’t have a guide...there’s very little signage or information about park history or geology,” Green says.
 
 
New suspension bridge along the O circuit. Photo: Luis PalmaNew suspension bridge along the O circuit. Photo: Luis Palma
 
 
The research, conducted by Legacy Fund and CONAF staff with guidance from ecologist Isaac Ortega, will map and classify the wetlands and flora and fauna, which will then be used for the trail signage and further informing conservation and park management efforts of the park’s wetland ecosystems.
 
“We’re working on increasing the value, knowledge and management of Torres del Paine wetland ecosystems, which are actually very comprehensive but people don’t really know much about them,” says Green. “We want to mitigate hiker impact in these sensitive areas but also provide more educational information.”
 
Green estimates that the work can be done within the 2018-2019 season with the combined effort of volunteers and CONAF park rangers.
 
 
 
Restoration before, during, and after. Photo: Legacy FundRestoration before, during, and after. Photo: Legacy Fund  Before and after new trail construction. Photo: Eric LeeBefore and after new trail construction. Photo: Eric Lee
 
 
Although the project proposal was submitted by the Legacy Fund, the winner was selected from a pool of finalists that were then voted for online. Green said that the outpouring of support from local and Chilean businesses that they partner with in the area, especially in the tourism and conservation sectors, helped put the project over the top and secure the win. “That’s where our model of partnership with all these tourism stakeholders really proved to be a huge advantage,” she says.
 
Since winning the grant, Green says most people are excited that these types of relationships are bringing much needed resources to the park. Although, she acknowledges that a minority few have since raised objections over their use of the term “O Circuit” instead of Macizo Paine circuit, or leveled accusations that the grant is about “privados,” private enterprises, that only want to further exploit the park for gain.
 
As plans move forward to implement the project this upcoming season, Green is optimistic about how it will affect both the park’s health and the visitor experience.
 
“It’s basic visitor impact mitigation, so being able to alleviate some of the impact from increasing visitation is goal number one,” Green says. “Goal number two is visitor education about the area and why it is important to protect.”
 
For more information about the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund and how you can help, visit supporttdp.org