Editorials

Editorial: The full cost of the Yosemite shakedown

Yosemite’s Wawona Hotel, shown here in the 1920s, will be renamed Big Trees Lodge on March 1 unless the park can reach a settlement with its outgoing concessionaire.
Yosemite’s Wawona Hotel, shown here in the 1920s, will be renamed Big Trees Lodge on March 1 unless the park can reach a settlement with its outgoing concessionaire. / California State Library

Barring some last-minute miracle, and to the almost physical disgust of most Californians, several of Yosemite’s most famous landmarks will officially be renamed this week.

Starting March 1, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village, Wawona Hotel and other park attractions will all be rebranded, the result of a trademark dispute that did not need to happen.

Spurned in a bid to re-up its lucrative contract, the park’s outgoing concessionaire, owned by New York-based Delaware North, decided to demand $51 million for the intellectual property attached to the place names. That shakedown – stemming from an arcane contractual twist that had allowed an earlier concessionaire to own and sell what should have been public trademarks – devolved into an ongoing court fight.

We wish Delaware North would back down from this sordid play, rather than burn what goodwill it has left with this massive state’s public. So do Yosemite officials, who, in a probably vain expression of hope, aren’t immediately taking down the old signs, just covering them in case this travesty turns out to be temporary.

But in the meantime, perhaps the concessionaire will find itself moved by Assemblymen Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, Adam Gray, D-Merced, and Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, who last week introduced legislation to protect California’s state parks from similar exploitation – and to, by the way, ban the state from contracting later with concessionaires who try to trademark park place names.

It’s unfortunate that the trio, along with an impressive host of co-authors, would have to take such preventive action. But the place names in Yosemite aren’t the only ones that are precious.

Indeed, to go down the list is to marvel at this state’s wealth of parks and attractions: Hearst Castle. Big Sur Lodge. Crystal Cove, like a vintage gem fronting the ocean. The ghost town of Bodie. Big Basin. The Point Cabrillo Light Station. Railway 1897. Sutter’s Fort. The Old Governor’s Mansion.

It’s hard to imagine that a concession company would be so obsessed with this insipid, one-off Yosemite payday that it would forgo the chance to ever again do business on public land in a place like California. But Assembly Bill 2249 should remind Delaware North of the full cost of this way of doing business. There are names for the kinds of companies that try to pull stunts like this on a good state’s good people.

But we won’t print them. Just as we’ll refrain, for now, from calling the stately gem of the national park system the – ugh – “Majestic Yosemite Hotel.”

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