North Face founder's widow donates land to Chile state

US billionaire Douglas Tompkins (R) and his wife Kristine pose in front of their house at the estate "Rincon del Socorro" in Ibera, Argentina, on November 5, 2009 (AFP Photo/Daniel Garcia) (AFP/File)

Santiago (AFP) - The widow of the late billionaire co-founder of outdoor label The North Face has offered to donate a vast nature reserve he owned to the Chilean state, media said Friday.

The 72-year-old US philanthropist Douglas Tompkins caused controversy when he bought up vast swathes of land in southern Chile and Argentina in the 1990s.

Now his widow Kristine McDavitt says she has offered 400,000 hectares of reserve land, with woods and rare flowers, to the Chilean state so that it can open them to the public.

"If we manage to work together and the state accepts the donation, it will be the biggest handover of private land in the world," she was quoted as saying by national newspaper La Tercera.

"We want people from all countries to visit these places."

It said she made the offer during a meeting on Thursday with Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

A passionate outdoorsman, Tompkins died last month after a kayaking accident in Chile's Patagonia region.

He moved to Chile 25 years ago after selling his stake in The North Face and Esprit, another clothing brand he co-founded.

He is a hero to many environmentalists and the parks he created are widely hailed as an environmental and tourism boon in both Chile and Argentina.

But his nature reserve projects made him some powerful enemies in a Chile just emerging from the bloody 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Former interior minister Belisario Velasco accused the late conservationist of pressuring landholders to sell their land at cheap prices.