Historic hotels and other beloved landmarks at Yosemite National Park will soon undergo a name change in a multi-million dollar tussle over who owns rights to the original names.
The Ahwahnee, a luxurious stone and timber hotel with stunning views of the park’s fabled granite peaks, will be called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Curry Village, a woodsy family-friendly lodging complex, will be recast as Half Dome Village.
These name changes and others announced Thursday aren’t sitting well with everybody, but the National Park Service says they have to make them at least temporarily to ensure that visitors soaking up Yosemite’s natural wonders don’t have their experience spoiled as a messy lawsuit with the park concessionaire plays out in Washington, D.C.
Trademark disputes at Yosemite and elsewhere feed into a debate about the fate of other names synonymous with national parks and government-owned entities across the country. There also have been disputes at Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas, the Grand Canyon in Arizona and with other iconic pieces of Americana owned by the U.S. government, including the Space Shuttle Atlantis.
The new names at Yosemite are the latest twist in the dispute with Delaware North, the company that recently lost a $2 billion bid — the National Park Services largest single contract — to run the park’s hotels, restaurants and outdoor activities that draw visitors from around the world.
Delaware North demands to be paid $51 million for the names and other intellectual property. The New York-based firm filed a lawsuit last year, saying that when it won the contract in 1993, the park service required the company to buy the former concessionaire’s assets.
The park service says it belatedly learned of that Delaware North had applied for the trademarks on Yosemite names when it prepared to open bids for the concessionary operation. Yosemite awarded a 15-year contract to Aramark last year.
The name changes are being made to avoid any disruptions in services during the transition to a new concessionaire on March 1, when the new names go into effect, said Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman. He said the park service still is fighting for the rights to keep the original names.
“We’re clearly in disagreement with Delaware North,” he said. “We’re taking this action to ensure the seamless transition.”
The Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will turn into Yosemite Valley Lodge; Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge; and Badger Pass Ski Area will be called Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
Yosemite National Park — another name which is also claimed by Delaware North and remains in dispute — will stay put, Gediman said.
DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc., a subsidiary of Delaware North, said in a written statement that it was “shocked and disappointed” that the park service is using the names as a “bargaining chip.”
The company defended its demands, saying that it hopes Yosemite and the new concessionaire decide not to change the names. “All we want in this is fair and just treatment,” the company said.
The park service says the names and other intellectual property are worth about $3.5 million, according to the government’s response to a lawsuit that Delaware North filed with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Justice Department attorney John Robertson wrote in court papers that the company “wildly inflated” the value of the trademark names at $51 million. He added that Delaware North has “breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing,” a claim the company denies.
The park service says it belatedly learned of the trademark issue when it prepared to open bids for the concessionary operation. Yosemite awarded a 15-year contract to Aramark last year.
Delaware North also runs concessions at the Kennedy Space Center and has a trademark application for “Space Shuttle Atlantis,” government court papers say.
Delaware North “apparently embarked on a business model whereby it collects trademarks to the names of iconic property owned by the United States,” Robertson wrote.
Changing names at Yosemite is not popular with park admirers like John Lenau, an amateur historian and president of the Conference of California Historical Societies.
Now 76, he’s visited Yosemite since childhood and says when somebody mentions Curry Village he can picture it in his head. That will be lost with the name change, he said.
Lenau also worries about stripping away the Native American heritage of Yosemite by turning the Ahwahnee into the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and the Wawona Hotel to Big Trees Lodge.
“I don’t see the advantage of dong that,” he said, speaking for himself rather than the society. “I’m just a little bit against changing something that has been around for so many years.”