Why Is Yosemite Changing its Landmarks' Names?

Learn how a lawsuit could change the face of one of America's best-known national parks.
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Learn how a lawsuit could change the face of one of America's best-known national parks.
Ahwahnee

Yosemite's Ahwahnee will soon have a new name. (Photo by Kylie Turley/Flickr)

Visitors to Yosemite National Park have long stayed at the Ahwahnee and Curry Village and hit the slopes at Badger Pass Ski Area. But due to an ongoing trademark dispute with Yosemite’s outgoing concessionaire, as of March 1 visitors will find that the names have changed to Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Half Dome Village and Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area.

It’s the latest development in the ongoing saga of the park’s iconic names. Scott Gediman, Yosemite National Park’s assistant superintendent for public & legislative affairs, told the Associated Press that the move is intended to ensure “a seamless transition” when Delaware North, which operates concessions under the name DNC Parks & Resorts, transfers concessions to a new vendor in March. Other preemptive name changes include Big Trees Lodge (formerly the Wahwona Hotel) and Yosemite Valley Lodge (formerly Yosemite Lodge at the Falls).

The park’s trademarks are central to a ten-page lawsuit filed last year DNC Parks & Resorts against the National Park Service. The complaint, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims on September 17, alleges that Delaware North Parks & Resorts, Inc., which currently handles all hospitality within the park, owns and is entitled to payment for trademarks related to Yosemite.

The dispute came months after the National Park Service announced it had selected Yosemite Hospitality LLC, a subsidy of Aramark, as the park’s new concessionaire. The 15-year contract is worth $2 billion. In its lawsuit, Delaware North claims that the National Park Service must now force Aramark to purchase its assets, including “intellectual property, customer database and internet related intangibles,” at fair value—assets they have claimed are worth at least $51 million.

When DNC Parks & Resorts took over concessions at Yosemite in 1993, it was required to buy the assets of the park’s former concessionaire. Among those assets were the rights to use names associated with the park. In 2002, DNC Parks & Resorts registered trademarks for the name “Yosemite National Park” and other park names with the stated intention of using them on merchandise. While the company has relinquished the physical property it purchased, it claims that it still owns the intellectual property.

So far, there are no plans to change the park’s name.

Delaware North will stay in place at Yosemite until Aramark takes over around March 1. The company’s spokeswoman, Lisa Cesaro, responded to Backpacker’s inquiries about the lawsuit with a prepared statement. “We were required by the NPS to buy the [prior concessionaire’s] assets to begin our operations at Yosemite,” it reads in part. “It is...sad and unfortunate that DNC Yosemite was left with no recourse other than to go to court to seek fair treatment regarding the transfer of the Yosemite National Park concessions contract. We had hoped this would not be necessary.” Delaware North has also prepared a website about the dispute.

This isn’t the first time the Park Service has found itself in the midst of a tussle over trademarks. Last year, jilted Grand Canyon concessionaire Xanterra Parks & Resorts abandoned an attempt to trademark iconic Grand Canyon names like Hopi House and El Tovar.

The Park Service has remained silent on whether it plans to fight the lawsuit. Gediman tells Backpacker that the Park Service declines to comment on pending litigation. Nevertheless, he said, “we’re moving forward with the transition”—a transition that, for now, has left some of Yosemite’s most iconic names in question.

The law about trademarking landmarks and historic places is fuzzy, so it’s not clear whether Delaware North has a legal leg to stand on. In either case, laws updated in late 2014 protect the park’s name from claims from any party. What is certain is that Aramark and the Park Service are moving ahead with the contract anyway. Earlier this year, Aramark told National Parks Traveler’s Kurt Repanshek that they’re working to address the trademark issue with the various parties.

Aramark spokesman David Freireich wouldn't comment on the trademark dispute. He tells Backpacker that Aramark is “focused on working closely with the National Park Service to create great new memories for Yosemite’s many enthusiasts who hold the park so near and dear to their hearts.”

Should they prevail in the lawsuit, park officials say that they plan to restore the landmarks’ original names. But for now, many names at the 125-year-old park may sound strange to long-time visitors’ ears.