05/27/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

North Face Founder's $50M Chilean Rain Forest Gift At Risk

North Face Inc. founder Douglas Tompkins and his wife Kristine have spent $50 million to save Chile's rain forest. Now nature is rebelling: A volcano that has erupted for the first time in 9,000 years is ravaging the reserve they have built.

The Chaiten volcano sits on the southern edge of Pumalin Park, a 300,000-hectare (740,000-acre) site created by the Tompkinses to preserve a swath of Patagonia. Ash and rivers swollen by volcanic mud have damaged land, trees and trails on a third of the park and threaten to obliterate 17 years of work, Kristine Tompkins said.

``It's a mess, a serious mess,'' she said in a May 13 phone interview from Pumalin's administration center at Puerto Varas, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from the volcano. ``If it gets worse, it could hammer in a big way the infrastructure we've built, and wipe out forests that'll take thousands of years to return.''

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