In 2002, after practicing as an employment lawyer for nearly five years, Leslie Blickenstaff ’94 took a time-out to reevaluate her life. While asking herself the typical self-revealing question, “Am I truly happy?”, she came to the realization that something was lacking. “I wanted to feel passionate about something, and I wanted to do something that made a positive difference in other people’s lives.” At the risk of losing the steady salary and security she had earned through her five years of work at the Boston-based firm of Goodwin Procter LLP, Blickenstaff took a six-month leave of absence in a small town in Chilean Patagonia called Coyhaique. What began as a temporary escape from her professional life, quickly morphed into a service project that would provide the direction and sense of purpose Blickenstaff craved.
In the weeks before her graduation from Bowdoin in 1994, Blickenstaff, like many of her classmates, had difficulty translating her interests into tangible career options. Although Spanish had been a long-time passion, she put it aside and applied to law school, much to the disappointment of her Spanish Professor and mentor John Turner. Eight years later however, Bllickenstaff found herself once again immersed in the Spanish language and overtaken with what she describes as the “vast, wild, lonely, powerful, fragile, and unbelievably beautiful” Patagonian region of southern Chile. Living in an environment so drastically different from her previous urban surroundings was the perfect remedy for Blickenstaff. “Patagonia is a place where I can escape the pressures of the modern world to a place where the power of nature alone dwarfs just about any other concern I may have in my life.”
Her passion for the Patagonian region led to Blickenstaff’s involvement with groups working to preserve its natural beauty, which is threatened by increases in logging, oil exploration, and over fishing. In 2002, Blickenstaff co-founded The Patagonian Foundation (TPF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable development throughout Patagonia. Recently, TPF sponsored its first project in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, a world-famous tourist destination that has seen attendance rise from 17,000 to 100,000 visitors over the past decade. To help the Chilean park service address the increased demands on the park’s infrastructure, TPF partnered with the U.S. Forest Service to create a volunteer trail maintenance project. Over thirty volunteers from the United States and Chile participated in the effort, which focused on rebuilding and re-routing heavily used park trails, and training Chilean park rangers in trail building and maintenance.
Blickenstaff has since returned to her job as attorney, however with the help of her law firm she is now able to balance her “real job” and her commitment to TPF. Today she is grateful for her skills as an attorney, which enable her to provide TPF with valuable advice and guidance. In return, TPF allows Blickenstaff to exercise her Spanish skills and make a difference in the lives of Patagonians.
Looking back on her decisions, Blickenstaff is confident that her choices will continue to yield positive results. “I firmly believe that change is necessary to learn and grow. Hopefully by making changes in my own life I can make a difference in Patagonia as well.” The most rewarding aspect of Blickenstaff’s work with TPF has been the opportunity to help others, an opportunity she extends to the Bowdoin community. More information on upcoming projects in November 2005 and March 2006 can be found by visiting www.thepatagonianfoundation.org.
by Alix Roy ’07
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 77, No. 1, Fall 2005
Posted November 02, 2005