Thinking about the Boardwalk Project

Chris Braunlich

In 2015, CONAF – the Chilean agency entrusted to manage Torres del Paine National Park – asked ConservationVIP® about the viability of converting a horse trail in the park into a hiking trail. A new trail would relieve severe overcrowding on a section of the hiking trail known as “the W”.  We responded that it could be a beautiful trail, but it would take a long time to build, and it should not be built unless the park could protect a fragile meadow at the end of the route with a very long boardwalk. CONAF wanted to proceed, and we agreed to help.

When the boardwalk was recently completed, I breathed a giant sigh of relief. It was tempting to just celebrate and move on to the next challenge. The trip reports  rightfully acknowledge the generous volunteers who built the boardwalk. But they don’t tell the whole story, since they do not mention the many people who contributed to the success of the project who were not on the trips. I am not so delusional that I think people want to hear me drone on with a boring list of credits. But focusing only on the people who hammered the lumber together is like admiring an iceberg in Lago Grey and not thinking about the six-sevenths of the iceberg which is underwater, unseen. There was a lot of work that was done in the background, and many people whose efforts together made the impossible possible. I want to acknowledge that huge team effort.

Beyond that, like all challenging projects, the boardwalk involved highs and lows and lots of work. There were times when problems seemed insurmountable. Getting past them required a combination of effort, persistence, luck, and faith that things would work out somehow. Sharing a realistic version of the story may encourage others who are feeling overwhelmed by their projects. So, here’s a short synopsis:


Wow, building a new trail in one of the most beautiful places on earth. This is great!
But then . . .

Reality Hits!

Tons more work to do, couldn’t blame anyone but myself, I agreed to it.
Plus, there are some major “challenges” (meaning “how the heck are we going to be able to do this?)

Settle Down and Work

Settle Down and Work.

Lifelong work habits kicked in – Started with “easy” and familiar tasks while puzzling out the more challenging parts. These details are boring to all except those working on them. We started with building the trail leading to the boardwalk. The trail builders probably didn’t know that their progress on the trail helped sustain my enthusiasm while working through the boardwalk challenge.

Reduce the Unknown

Before we could proceed, we had to define the parameters of the project. With a lot of help we determined how long the boardwalk should be (about 1,000 feet!), the siting, which design to use, the type and amount of materials, and the estimated cost. Yikes! We needed to raise $30,000


Where would we get the money to build the boardwalk? We needed a grant – letters of inquiry, drafting grant requests, reworking language to fit word limits, writing and rewriting, submitting, rewriting, resubmitting.
It takes a village.


REI Adventures adopted the project and funded a $30,000 grant through the Adventure Travel Conservation Fund.

Logistical Challenges abounded

There is a short construction window in Patagonia. Buying materials in Chile, while located in the U.S., was not a piece of cake. Wiring money to vendors required great care. Recruiting volunteers for the work was a marketing challenge. Arranging lodging and transportation was NOT fun. What if the materials did not get to the site before the volunteers arrived? Good luck! We DID (mostly) have good luck.

Disappointment and Joy

Disappointment and Joy

Choosing the best people to lead the trip/construction meant I had to disqualify myself and not be there for the construction. But the leaders were so good at sending photos and updates that I ended up feeling very happy.

Thank You All

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Barbara Kennedy

Thank you Chris for making this project happen! It wouldn’t have happened without Chris Braunlich, and her dogged attention to all the nitty gritty details, large and small.

I work with Chris on a regular basis with ConservationVIP. She is a stickler for details, believe me! And while my-sweep-things-over- with-a-big-fat-brush approach probably drives her nuts sometimes, I have grown to appreciate her finely tuned attention to things. She gets it right. And she gets it done.
Three Cheers for Chris!

Thank YOU Barbara. Your steady hand on our communications never drives me nuts because I know how important your work is for getting the word out to volunteers. Without that, our trips would not fill and the boardwalk might still be in the planning stages! Forever grateful, Chris

Karen Cockroft Toporowski

What a stupendous accomplishment! I enjoyed reading about all of it, and those who participated deserve applause and admiration. Chris Braunlich is a fantastic planner, coordinator, worker bee, problem solver, go getter, and warm personality to boot! I know this from just one CVIP trip to Machu Picchu in 2015…she is impressive. Congratulations to her and everyone else who took part!

Thank you Karen, you are so kind. I hope to meet again on another trip. Warm regards, Chris

Jeanne Fell

Chris, you were the right person at the time to get this done! I can see many people rallied around. Johnny and I were privileged to work on just a piece of the boardwalk. What a great experience that was.
Sooo, you asked us once about other countries where we might like to go volunteer. We mentioned Croatia, but have since read about how Slovenia is embracing green tourism. Slovenia might be a good place to explore!

Thank YOU Jeanne – and Johnny – for your work on the boardwalk. It is truly amazing what can be accomplished by so many people coming together for a common purpose. Thank you also for the suggestion about Slovenia. Suggestions from volunteers are an important part of our new destination considerations. Warm regards, Chris

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