Enhancing and safeguarding Torres del Paine’s ‘O’ Circuit, Chile

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is dedicated to ensuring a more sustainable future for Torres del Paine National Park and its surrounding communities. Jointly with public and private sector partners, technical and financial assistance is provided for locally led sustainability action projects that advance the long-term health of this world renowned natural wonder.

Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is a UNESCO biosphere reserve due to its exceptional ecological significance.  With 4 distinct ecosystems, the park is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including 40 different mammals and approximately 115 bird species, many of which rely on the park’s wetland ecosystems. This National Park is becoming increasingly popular with visitors, with 252,000 visiting in 2016.  This places a significant strain on the region’s flora and fauna, aging infrastructure, limited trails and insufficient resources. This project will
– work with local volunteers and park rangers to construct a high quality boardwalk along heavily used but sensitive segments of the popular 7 day ‘O’ circuit trail, which circumnavigates the Paine Massif
– design and install interpretive displays that communicate the critical features of the transited ecosystems to an estimated 10,000 trail users annually.

The Update

This project is now complete, resulting in the construction of 170 metres of boardwalk to help conserve the one-of-a kind habitat found along the park’s famous Paine Massif Circuit, also known as the ‘O Circuit’. Interpretive panels have been installed to inform visitors about the area’s flora and fauna, as well as the wetland and its importance; designed to both educate hikers about the ecosystems they’re transiting, with a goal of also reducing incursions into sensitive habitats.
16,690 kilos of materials were flown in by helicopter to the project site. The team waited several weeks for favourable weather to allow the helicopter to fly – the area is known for winds that regularly reach upwards of 100kmph.
Over a period of 18 days, Legacy fund and park staff, and a team of dedicated volunteers, put in a combined 1,906 man hours to the project. This included: hiking to the site; transferring tools; flagging out the boardwalk; removing existing lumber and make-shift structures; digging 70 holes for the cypress posts that would serve as the structure supports; and laying out the boardwalk. This labour intensive effort required volunteers to walk for several hundred meters back and forth to retrieve rocks and gravel, which were used to fill the holes and stabilize the posts.
The project was also able to finance an additional 10 volunteers to assist with the construction of an additional 170m boardwalk on the Park’s ‘W Circuit’, connecting Paine Grande and Italian camps. This section of the ‘W Circuit’ is one of the most highly transited and impacted, and this new segment will permit a unidirectional loop hike to alleviate congestion and improve the visitor experience.
“EOCA truly made a tangible, visible, enduring difference in this world-renowned national park with these two new additions.”

Image credit: Amanda Cantero