If you've ever visited or dreamed of visiting Yosemite National Park, you may know the names of the historic lodging and recreation areas that are found there — the famed Ahwahnee Hotel, the notorious Curry Village, the elegant Wawona Hotel. But those famous names are about to change, thanks to a trademark dispute with the park's current concessionaire. Park visitors and employees alike are reeling from the news.
Within the next few weeks, Yosemite will change the names of its most famous human-made landmarks. The Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will now be known as the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge. Half Dome Village will be the new name for what was once Curry Village. And Badger Pass Ski Area will henceforth be called Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
The Ahwahnee Hotel has been called the Ahwahnee Hotel since it was built in 1927. It was the Ahwahnee Hotel when parts of its interior were used to film such famous movies as "The Shining" and "The Caine Mutiny." It was the Ahwahnee when it housed notable guests such as Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy, Walt Disney, Lucille Ball and Leonard Nimoy. And it was the Ahwahnee Hotel when it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1987.
Curry Village, the Wawona Hotel, Yosemite Lodge and Badger Pass Ski Area have names that are equally rich in history.
So why the change? It all boils down to a trademark dispute in what can only be described as a dirty business practice by the concessionaire company, Delaware North.
It was the Ahwahnee Hotel, not the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, that served as a hospital ward for injured sailors and marines during World War II. (Photo: NPS.gov)
Delaware North has been running the concessions at Yosemite National Park since 1993. As the park concessionaire, the company has been in charge of managing lodging, merchandise and restaurant facilities within the park. But as is the case with all national parks, these concession contracts are for a limited time, which means that every five or 10 or 15 years, the park accepts new bids from companies interested in operating the park's concessions.
This year, park officials granted the next 15-year concessions contract to Delaware North's competitor, Aramark. It was then that the park learned that Delaware North had applied for and been granted trademarks for the names of Yosemite's most famous lodges and resorts. Delaware North is asking the park for $51 million to purchase those names along with other intellectual property rights.
The loss of Yosemite's concession contract is a big deal for Delaware North. Valued at $2 billion, it's the National Park Service's single largest contract. But that loss has exposed the shady business model that Delaware North has enacted not only at Yosemite, but at other federally owned facilities, such as Grand Canyon National Park, Hot Springs National Park and Kennedy Space Center. By applying for trademarks to the names of these well-known resorts and facilities, the concession company hoped to buy leverage that could be used to secure future contracts.
The Badger Pass Ski Area will henceforth be known as the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. (Photo: NPS.gov)
But that plan may have backfired in their attempts to strong-arm park officials at Yosemite. Justice Department attorney John Robertson wrote in court papers that Delaware North, "apparently embarked on a business model whereby it collects trademarks to the names of iconic property owned by the United States," adding that the company has "breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing."
While the plan to change the names of Yosemite's historic hotels and ski areas has not been popular, it does allow the park to seamlessly continue operations when the new park concessionaire takes charge in March.
And let's just hope that this time the park secures its own trademarks for the future.