By Don Weeden, Jack Miller and Camilo Rada
We don’t need to tell the readers of Patagon Journal that Chile is blessed with an abundance of extraordinary natural places. Fortunately, many such places are protected as national parks, or as nature sanctuaries (Pumalin Park is the best known example).
But nature lovers must remember that such places can be lost if they lack protection. Perhaps Chile’s worst loss was the spectacular Biobio River which was plugged by two massive dams since the 1990s, essentially reduced to a massive construction site interspersed by stagnant reservoirs.
As outdoorsmen who have explored many parts of Chile, spanning five decades, we are particularly concerned about two places of such special beauty that it is inconceivable that nature lovers would allow them to be compromised. They would surely be protected as national parks in other developed countries.
The first place is well known to Patagon Journal readers and river enthusiasts globally: the Futaleufú River. We have been hearing for years that there are eminent threats of big dams and mining projects, but in fact, of perhaps equal threat is the more mundane activities of road building, hotel/residential development, and small-scale logging. Because virtually all land within this river corridor is privately owned, maintaining the wilderness character of the river’s gorges has relied on the good will of landowners. But slowly the river corridor is being compromised.
Over the past few years, a few lodges and hotels have sprouted up along the river’s banks, the most famous of which is a box-like French hotel high on the cliffs above the entrance of Infierno Gorge. Downriver, a newly proposed road would cut deep into the corridor (below El Trono rapid), opening up the river’s mostly roadless south side to development. Unprotected, the river corridor is vulnerable to being built up and fragmented. In other words: nicked and cut to death.
The second place of special beauty is the Cordillera Sarmiento and the adjoining Fiordo de las Montañas in the Magallanes Region, west of Puerto Natales. The Cordillera Sarmiento is a mountainous peninsula about 65 km long and 15 km wide, and is the southernmost extension of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It has been described as a “Lost World” of rare wildlife, impenetrable beech forests, jagged peaks, and massive icefields that spill several tidewater glaciers into the Fiordo de las Montañas, itself a narrow finger that stretches 65 kilometers. It is a breathtaking wild landscape.