As believers in experiential education and learning through traveling, we encourage our team members to explore beyond the park borders to develop their skills at the park. Last month, Cristian Saucedo, Wildlife and Conservation Director, organized a week-long trip for our park rangers and members of the trail crew to some of the most established and popular parks in Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, including Torres del Paine National Park, Monte Leon National Park, and Los Glaciares National Park.
Many of the participants, such as Daniel Velasquez, Arcilio Sepulveda, and Delmiro Jara, were formerly ranch hands, or gauchos, on the Estancia Valle Chacabuco. Today, they are key players in our wildlife tracking, trail building, and guiding programs. Their knowledge of the land and its ecosystems is invaluable, yet they are largely unfamiliar with the context of the project or what constitutes a great national park. Educational field trips like this expose them to their region’s tradition of national parks, which will allow the park guards to have a stronger voice in the ongoing dialogue about the park’s future.
The idea behind organizing this tour was to show, rather than tell, what the national park system looks like. Trip participants visited with CONAF officials in Torres del Paine, and with ecotourism operators in El Calafate. They spent some time at Argentina’s Monte Leon National Park, the 155,000-acre coastal park that was Conservacion Patagonica’s first project.
Back in the Chacabuco Valley, we asked all participants to share their impressions, opinions, and feelings about what they saw in an anonymous survey. When it came down to picking a favorite park, there was no clear winner. But across the board, most reported that the infrastructure of information was the most impressive feature of all the parks. These comments ranged from observations about good signage to the knowledge, preparedness, and charisma of the park workers.
Several respondents noted that, in general, they would have liked to find more attempts at sustainability and restoration, but appreciated the efforts they did see. All in all, it seems that the park guards of the future Patagonia National Park came to see the importance of their role in the big picture. As one wrote, “I feel like a catcher of information – what I’ve learned here will help me become an even better defender of the culture and landscape of my region.”