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The global flag of conservation is flying half-staff in the wake of Doug Tompkin’s death this past week. In short, he passed on while doing an activity he loved– kayaking — when winds whipped up and created a difficult and ultimately unnavigable situation. The ATTA and the adventure community at large mourns his death and it carries an especially painful sting as we had just gotten to know him better through this year’s Adventure Travel World Summit in Chile, where he gave a keynote speech about his life’s work.
We learned about Doug Tompkins’ work sometime in the mid 2000s and sent him a note asking if he’d be willing to speak at one of our events. While the ATTA is a business association, we’ve always held conservation and cultural preservation as paramount values in the adventure industry and we like to hear from people who live it boldly. To my surprise, he responded that very day:
“Thank you for your flattering offer to speak to your association. I would be pleased to do it if it is such that it can dovetail into my own travel schedule which is very tight. Often we take the month of June and go around the world somewhere on conservation work. I think I can have something important to tell [your association] as I have been thinking and talking about eco-tourism/adventure travel for a long time. – [It] is a kind of act of activism if you know what I mean! I can only give half a dozen talks a year so I need to make them worth the effort. I am sure you understand.”
For a man of his stature, co-founder of The North Face and Esprit, someone who hangs out with Yvon Chouinard, it was remarkable that he responded at all. It’s worth noting that he mentions taking off the month of June from doing conservation in South America to do conservation elsewhere.
In October of this year, he made good on this offer and spoke at our Summit in Chile. Casey Hanisko, Rafael Gallo and I had an hour with him the day before his talk on opening night. If there were two words I’d use to describe him, they would be “vision” and “determined.” The catalogue of amazing conservation he and his wife Kris have accomplished over the years is astonishing. Who else can claim to have personally protected more than 2 million acres of land for wildlife and for future generations? James Sano of World Wildlife Fund sagely notes, “When I left the Summit I was trying to wrack my brain whether any private individual has engineered and financed conservation on this scale. No one comes close…not even John D. Rockefeller, Jr.”
It is instructive to think about Doug’s comment about ecotourism and adventure travel being “a kind of activism.” Clearly it is this spirit that drives our industry and why we feel the loss of Doug Tompkins so acutely: adventure — by our definition and I’m sure Doug would agree — plunges us irreversibly, if we let it happen, into a transformative understanding of nature and humanity. We have no choice but to act on that transformation.
Rest in Peace, Douglas, and thank you for inspiring us to accomplish more.