Delaware North Loses Contract in Yosemite National Park

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Private Company Sues Park Service for $50 Million Claiming Ownership of Park Names, Including Yosemite

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The historic Ahwahnee Hotel, a landmark of Yosemite National Park, will soon be renamed the Majestic Yosemite Hotel: John Walker/AP

By Glynn Wilson –

A private contractor running many of the operations in America’s national parks is now suing the federal government claiming it owns the intellectual property rights of famous names like Yosemite National Park, along with the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village.

Delaware North, a syndicate that made its early money in gaming and gambling, lost its $2 billion bid to renew its contract for another 15 years to run Yosemite’s restaurants, lodges, hotels and other outdoor activities. In retribution, it is suing for $50 million for the rights to iconic names the park has used since the early days of the National Park Service, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

In retreat, park officials have decided to change some of the names so the next concessioner, Aramark, which won the bid, can take over in March, park spokesman Scott Gediman said Thursday.

The Ahwahnee Hotel, famous for visits by Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin, will now be called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Curry Village, a set of cabins near the park’s center that has carried the name since the 1800s, will become Half Dome Village. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will become Yosemite Valley Lodge. Wawona Hotel will be renamed Big Trees Lodge. Badger Pass Ski Area will now be known as Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area.

“This is not something we did willingly,” Gediman told the Los Angeles Times, indicating that the parks service would fight to reclaim the old names in hopes that they someday they may be restored.

“It would totally change the experience to visit Yosemite without these names,” Jeanne O’Neil, a Bakersfield resident who has visited the park annually for 36 years, told the paper. “I would expect this decision to create a huge public outcry.”

Delaware North spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro claimed the company had been required to purchase the assets of the previous concessionaire, “including its intellectual property,” at a cost of $115 million in today’s dollars, when it took over operations in 1993. The company is claiming the intellectual property included the original names, but the company says it’s willing to lend the names to the park for free until its court claim is resolved.

“It’s always about the money,” O’Neil said.

The National Park Service has said that rights to the names were never part of Delaware North’s original deal, and that the new concessions contract with Aramark makes clear that the names will not be sold this time either, Gediman said. Yet the government agency appears to be caving to Delaware North’s claims until the issue is resolved in court — except where it concerns the name to the national park itself. There are no plans to change the name of Yosemite National Park.

Park Service officials have accused Delaware North of opportunistically following the lead of other private operators, who have experienced mixed success in claiming the naming rights of government-owned icons like Tavern on the Green restaurant in New York’s Central Park and Phantom Ranch at the floor of the Grand Canyon.

As the Yosemite legal battle continues, the federal court first must decide if Delaware North’s trademark is valid and, if so, whether the amount the company is seeking is legitimate. The government claims that the intellectual property is only worth $3.5 million.

“Yosemite is an iconic public asset. Its names exist in people’s hearts,” said Julie Mastrine, a 24-year-old activist at Care2, a Bay Area technology company that is hosting a petition urging Delaware North to drop its claim to the names. “It’s preposterous that anyone can claim to own them.”

We are working on an Indiegogo fund raising campaign to go on a camping trip out west in the spring and investigate the private contractors profiting from Amerca’s national parks after spending two and a half months in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia this past summer.

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© 2016, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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  2 comments for “Delaware North Loses Contract in Yosemite National Park

  1. drunder
    January 18, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Perhaps the survivors of those indigenous to the area should in turn sue Delaware North…in a fair contest over who has the right to use the name the victor would be the ones who originally gave the place its Yosemite name, which was stolen from them along with the land itself…which they may have stolen from others before them…the chain of possession recedes into unknown history…why do the legal wrangles over ownership and naming rights allow only the claimants of European ancestry to enter the dispute?

  2. January 22, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Good point.

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