What’s in a name?
Will the Ahwahnee still summon the glory of California if we have to call it – ugh – “The Majestic Yosemite Hotel”?
Dispiritingly, Yosemite National Park visitors from around the world may soon find out, given the National Park Service’s stunning announcement Jan. 14 that a contract dispute with its outgoing concession company is forcing it to change the names of some of the park’s most venerable landmarks.
On March 1, Curry Village will become “Half Dome Village.” The Wawona Hotel will become “Big Trees Lodge.” Badger Pass will become the “Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.”
And the stately Ahwahnee, whose massive stone fireplace has warmed tourists since 1927, will, incredibly, no longer bear the name given to the mighty Yosemite Valley by the Native Americans who once lived there.
OK, the literal translation of the Miwok word is “big mouth.” But this surely is not what John Muir meant when he set eyes on the valley’s breathtaking landscape and wrote in his journal: “Born again!”
To the surprise of many, including some members of Congress, some of the park’s best-known attractions evidently are trademarked, and those trademarks might not belong to the National Park Service.
Californians have every right to be outraged. Private entities shouldn’t get to profit from icons owned by the public.
This came out after the old concession company, Delaware North, was outbid by a new one, and sued. Delaware North claimed that it had been required to acquire Yosemite’s place names when it took over hospitality services at the park in 1993, and now it wants $51 million for them. The concessionaire before it had been there since the late 1800s, and had built and trademarked the Ahwahnee, and Delaware North said its acquisition included the trademarks and other intellectual property.
The Park Service says it assumed, and still believes, that the names and their trademarks go with the buildings, which belong to the public. It claims that Delaware North had no authorization when, in, 2002, it filed applications to trademark everything from the names of Yosemite’s iconic hotels to the very name of the park. Now the Park Service says most of those names have to change or Delaware North could use its trademark claims to shut down park lodgings.
The feds’ move is a tactic intended, in part, to drive down the trademarks’ value. And if the parties settle, the park vows the old names will return.
But Californians have every right to be outraged. Private entities shouldn’t get to profit from icons owned by the public. And Delaware North seems to view this trick as a business model: It also has concessions at the Kennedy Space Center and Sequoia National Park, and – surprise – it has applied to trademark the words “Space Shuttle Atlantis” and “Wuksachi Lodge.”
Congress should strengthen federal laws to prevent this kind of overreach. And the National Park Service should redo its contracts to pre-empt other attempted hijinks.
In the meantime, Delaware North should reconsider this shakedown. Otherwise, its new name will be “mud.”