Initiative seeks to improve access to Chile’s mountains

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By Zoe Baillargeon
 
Chile is a land of mountains, so it stands to reason that most of them would be open to the public for their enjoyment. But not so. Many are off-limits.
 
A new initiative is looking into how Chile’s mountains - many of which are privately owned  - can become more easily accessible to a public that increasingly is hitting the trails and getting outside. With tourism surging in Chile, climbers, hikers, cyclists, and other aficionados of the great outdoors have found their way blocked by road closures, cover charges, or complicated bureaucratic entry procedures that turn them away from natural areas.
 
In response, the Plantae Foundation, an outdoor conservation organization, is creating a National Registry of Restrictions to Mountain Access to better understand the issue, as well as generate possible recommendations for policy makers.
 
“We want to collect the experiences - sometimes frustrating and disturbing - that are ocurring more and more for the mountaineering community, such as finding gates or closures to valleys and mountains in our beloved mountain range,” says foundation president Camilo Hornauer in a press release.
 
Plantae argues that mountains should share the same legal status as Chile’s beaches, rivers, and lakes, which, under the Civil Code, belong to and are free and accessible to all Chileans.
 
The registry is being compiled from preexisting information, as well as new data being gleaned from a public questionnaire available on the foundation website until April 30. In addition to asking the public for their input, Plantae has also interviewed some of Chile’s foremost mountain experts, like Cristian Donoso and Gino Casassa.
 
“I believe that, in Chile, there isn’t a mountain culture like in Europe, but it is amazing how, in the past thirty years, the number of people who visit mountains has increased,” says Casassa, a glaciologist and alpinist. “I believe that a mountain culture is beginning in Chile, and that seems good to me, very good.”
 
But the issue isn’t just a legal one. Plantae and those involved in this mission acknowledge that Chilean society is often not respectful of nature, which is why the foundation is also promoting the concept of “conscious access,” which centers on helping the public understand that, if they want unlimited access to nature, they need to take care of it as well.
 
“From the start, access to the mountains is access to a natural space, to nature, and that is a very necessary starting point for Chileans who, every day, are demanding and seeking to leave the city,” says Hornauer. “In addition, being able to access mountains allows one to, as Aldo Leopold puts it, 'think like a mountain'; that is, experiencing it [mountains] allows us to learn to listen from it and understand it, and then value and conserve the mountain ecosystems. All these virtues are not achieved if access to the mountains is restricted.”
 
To take the survey or learn more, go to http://fundacionplantae.cl/.