Just a few weeks ago, Dagoberto “Dago” Guzman became the superintendent at the future Patagonia National Park, bringing with him years of park management experience from Pumalin Park. He now lives in the Chacabuco Valley with his wife, Alejandra Retamal, and their two children. Lily McKeage, who spent the last few months teaching English to the children and staff at the future Park, sat down for a conversation with them about their backgrounds, vision for the park, and views on conservation.
Where did you grow up?
Dago: We are both from Santiago, Chile. We met while studying at the Universidad Católica in Santiago—I studied agricultural engineering, Alejandra studied forestry. Nine years ago we came to the South.
How did you first hear about the Tompkins’ work?
Dago: While in college, we heard about the Pumalin Park project through a professor of ours. We took a class trip to Pumalin, where we met Doug and Kris.
After growing up in Santiago, what attracted you to move to south Chile?
Dago: We came to the south because conservation—in particular applied, place-based conservation—has always interested us. Ever since high school, I’ve gotten involved with environmental projects and organizations. At the time when I had to decide whether or not to pursue doctoral studies, we started to realized—how can I explain it?—that they’re cutting down trees right now. And they’re building those dams right now. We believed that we could contribute more directly working at these conservation projects than at a university.
You were the Superintendent of Pumalin Park for years. Tell us about that.
Dago: At Pumalin, we were involved in the park project practically from its origin, so we worked on the genesis of many projects and aspects of the park. We got to see an amazing transformation and creation story take place there, and to become central players in that process. So we feel deeply attached to that place and what it has become.
Can you speak a bit about how you’re finding the future Parque Nacional Patagonia? How does it compare to Pumalin?
Dago: I’ve only been here for two weeks, but my first impression is essentially: it’s very different, but then again it’s the same. Pumalin and the future Patagonia National Park protect very different ecosystems, have very different geographies and particularities related to that, but they are products of the same people and the same system of thought. In both parks, we’re planning for the long run: to protect these areas for 300 years, 400, 500 years. The grand vision of creating these parks is much broader and deeper than trails and information centers. It’s to conserve and restore a representative and ecologically viable park of an ecosystem, and to allow people to experience the wonder of the healthy natural world.
What is living in these remote parks like for your family?
Alejandra: One of the best parts about life here is spending more time as a family—at lunchtime, for instance. In the city, most people spend so much time running between work and home. Here that doesn’t exist. It’s also incredibly important to us that our children will grow up in a safe place where you can leave your door unlocked and in close contact with nature. I grew up in the city, but every weekend my parents took me outside. That’s what made me respect and care for nature. I want my children to learn this, even if they grow up and do something completely different. They will always have a bit of nature in their hearts.
Dago: As a parent, you can give your children a certain amount of information to carry with them. We want to give ours a knowledge and familiarity with the natural world.
What is the work culture like, given the close community of people living and working here in the future park?
Dago: The project has many of the characteristics of a family business. Any worker can walk up and talk to the boss about their ideas and concerns. There are open channels of communication, and that is a great advantage. We are not just co-workers. We know each other’s lives and struggles. This is extremely special, yet it can also be hard, because in that sense it becomes a 24/7 job.
What challenges do you expect encountering here?
Dago: Think about visitors to national parks: in general, they know little when they arrive, and the goal is to lead them towards learning and understanding—both about that place in particular and about conservation in general. In managing the park, we have to focus on how do we show people the big picture. On the trails, in the information centers, everywhere.
What would you say to young people in Chile or elsewhere interested in conservation work?
Dago: Simply put, we are working to save the planet for future generations. Right now, we are firefighters battling a huge, out of control fire, with many fronts burning and very few people fighting it. Without a doubt, we could need more people, especially young people. What would I say to them? You can start advocating for nature from your own backyard, wherever you are: in a big city, at college, in the suburbs. The goal is beginning your own work to break this inertia that has gripped our planet.
Environmental education is critical. From how I see it, we are willing to protect and fight for only what we know. So we have to commit ourselves to learning and to teaching. Here at the future park, for instance, we’ve started with programs for volunteers, interns, student exchanges, whatever we can think of, so that we can expand the circle of people who understand what we’re doing here, and can then help us save it.
Alejandra: We need to have faith in young people. An increasing number of them want to tackle the environmental challenges of our time, from a variety of angles: as doctors, lawyers, architects, bankers, teachers. Not everyone will work in conservation, but the environmental movement thrives on this diversity, and increasing consciousness.
What are your hopes for the park—now, in 50 years, hundreds of years from now?
Dago: I hope it becomes an established national park, which Chileans know about and visit; today it is a park project. And I hope that public-minded projects like this will multiply. Philanthropy is very new in Chile, and this project aims to set an example of the good people can do when they think beyond themselves.
Alejandra: I feel the same way. I hope that many people will visit it and gain awareness about the environment. And with that, respect and protect the Earth, in some way, one grain of sand at a time.