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Valley Climbers React to Name Changes in Yosemite
Posted on: March 15, 2016
The National Historic Landmark previously known as The Ahwahnee, a name that has been in use since 1927. Soon after midnight on March 1, 2016—when the Park's concession holder changed from DNCY to Aramark—this location was renamed The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. [Photo] Julia Reardin
The recent renaming of many of the facilities at Yosemite National Park is drawing considerable criticism from current and former Valley climbers, residents and visitors.
"It's a shame when financial interests are able to trump the importance of cultural heritage in our own national parks," Colby Brokvist, general manager of Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides, wrote in an email.
"I think that it's terrible that DNCY [the Buffalo, New York-based concessionaire Delaware North Corporation Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc.] feels that they own the name of something that is part of our history," added Jacob Schmitz, a former long-time resident of the Valley. "I don't understand how a corporation that ran the park for 23 years can copyright a name that the public and the NPS has been using for over 100."
Schmitz was speaking in a generic sense, not singling out one name in particular. Some of the names for man-made facilities and sites in the park have been used even longer. Camp Curry was started, for example, in 1899. That name was later changed to Curry Village. The park's natural features, like Half Dome, are not affected by the concessionaire change; although their names were changed earlier in the history of the Valley by some of the first European visitors to the Valley. (For example, "Tis-sa-ack" is the original Ahwahneechee name for Half Dome.)
The recent name changes are a result of the March 1 concessionaire change.
In mid-2015, the outgoing concessionaire, DNCY, was unable to win a new contract with the Park Service to run hotels and retail outlets in the park. Yosemite Hospitality, LLC, a subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Aramark, a food-services company, bid successfully for the job.
According to NBC during the competition for the concession, DNCY sent letters to the Park Service letting the agency know it owned trademarks for many of the names that have been tied to famous facilities for decades—properties such as The Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village. And, according to court records, "...before, during and after the solicitation process, DNCY repeatedly sought assurances from NPS that it would comply with its obligation under the Contract to require a successor concessioner, as a condition to being granted the New Contract, to purchase and pay for DNCY's Other Property at fair value."
The National Park Service and Aramark subsequently learned that DNCY valued these names at $51 million. However in the lawsuit, filed September 17 with the US Court of Federal Claims, DNCY, "Prays for judgment in its favor against the Government for damages in an amount to be determined at trial, together with costs, reasonable attorneys' fees and other relief that Court deems just"—in other words, no specified amount.
"Because the [previous] concessioner, DNCY, claimed ownership and the right to payment for trade names, trademarks, and other intellectual property that it argues is worth over $50 million, the National Park Service included the option to change the names of these sites...." noted a January statement from the Park Service.
"While it is unfortunate that we must take this action, changing the names of these facilities will help us provide seamless service to the American public during the transition to the new concessioner," said Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher in that statement. "Yosemite National Park belongs to the American people. This action will not affect the historic status of the facilities, as they are still important cultural icons to the National Park Service and the public. Our stewardship of these properties is unwavering."
The statement went on to note the renaming was "to eliminate potential trademark infringement issues."
While DNCY suggested its names are worth $51 million, the Park Service has suggested the value of the names is worth $3.5 million, according to CBS News.
So, to avoid possible costs for the trademarked names, just after midnight on March 1, once DNCY's contract had expired, park workers began mounting new names onto road signs and placing black tape over plaques that carried the old names.
"I know we need to go with the flow, accept change and all that, but it sure seems like this whole business is indicative of the corporate greed so prevalent in our society," said longtime Yosemite climber Steve Bosque.
Signs covering the previous names of two locations in Yosemite: The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (The Ahwahnee) and Yosemite Valley Lodge (Yosemite Lodge at the Falls). [Photo] Julia Reardin
A reservationist who books visitors into The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (The Ahwahnee) told Alpinist there was considerable push back from people looking to stay there.
For its part, DNCY issued a statement regarding the name changes, stating that "DNCY has offered to license these trademarks, free of any charge, to allow NPS or the new concessionaire at Yosemite to use the trademarks and avoid any name changes or impact on the park visitor experience while this dispute is being settled by the courts." Additionally, the press release states: "DNCY has not 'grossly overvalued' the trademarks. DNCY had two independent appraisals of the intellectual property—which includes trademarked names, websites and customer databases—performed by reputable third-party experts.... Months prior to the bid submission deadline, DNCY shared its appraisals with NPS. After NPS disputed DNCY's appraisals and failed to share its own appraisal, DNCY offered to enter binding arbitration to set a fair value for the intellectual property.... It is common practice for concessionaires to use trademarks at federal locations. This is done to safeguard the treasured names, words and symbols from improper use by entities not under contract with the government.
"DNCY hopes NPS and the new concessionaire will not change the names of historic places or venues at Yosemite National Park. We purchased these trademarks when we commenced our work in 1993, as required by our contract with NPS, and our only interest is selling them on to the new concessionaire for fair value, a requirement NPS is obligated to enforce."
Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman responded to DNCY's statement in an interview with Alpinist on March 15.
"First of all DNCY made that offer to both us and Aramark," he said. "We did not accept the offer for two reasons. One—if we accepted the offer we would acknowledge that they owned them. We contest this in both the lawsuit and the petition. And the second reason is that there is no guarantee that DNCY will either rescind the offer in the future or instigate further legal action. We just don't know. That's been the narrative even before March 1."
DNYC also trademarked the expression "Go Climb A Rock," according to DNCY spokesman Glen White, as well as the park's name, "Yosemite National Park."
Gediman contests: "[The name] Yosemite National Park is in public domain so they couldn't get the trademark but they can use it for T-shirts and hats—that's what they own it for. We're contesting that in the trademark office and the court of federal claims. At the end of February, the National Park Service filed a petition to ask the trademark office to cancel these trademarks because we don't think they're legitimate and DNCY is no longer the concessionaire as of March 1."
For the moment, The Ahwahnee Hotel now is the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, the Wawona Hotel is the Big Trees Lodge, Curry Village is Half Dome Village, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is Yosemite Valley Lodge, and Badger Pass Ski Area is the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area.
(Top) Curry Village before the concessionaire change. (Bottom) Half Dome Village after the concessionaire change. [Photos] Julia Reardin
In a March 15 email to Alpinist, Aramark spokesman David Freireich wrote, "As you know, the NPS previously announced the names will be changed and that's how we are proceeding. We would have liked for this matter to have been resolved prior to March 1, however, when it became apparent that was not going to happen, the NPS was left with no choice but to change the names to ensure a smooth transition for visitors. Although the names are changing, the historical status of these properties will not change."
On February 26, the National Park Service filed a petition with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to cancel the disputed trademarks so that the old names could still be used by the Park Service and Aramark.
"This is just about price, and their asking price is outrageous.... DNCY made millions and millions a year off us for 23 years," said longtime Valley climber Doug Robinson.
Prior to Delaware North taking over in 1993, the Yosemite Park and Curry Company ran the concessions for 94 years, noted Frank Clifford in a 1993 LA Times article. "The brainchild of schoolteachers David and Jennie Curry, the Curry Co. started out doing business from a few tents in 1899 and eventually grew into an $80-million-a-year enterprise."
DNCY trademarked Curry Village, Wawona and The Ahwahnee in 2002, Yosemite Lodge in 2003, and Badger Pass in 2009.
Meanwhile, there are community-oriented moves afoot to restore Yosemite's names and to halt similar debacles in regard to historic names.
Name-change opponent Marya Gomez has created an online petition titled Don't Let Corporations Rename Yosemite Icons! which already has more than 105,000 signatures.
Three additional online campaigns against the name changes—"Delaware North: Release the name Yosemite National Park, "Yosemite National Park names should not be changed," and "Stop a corporation from stealing Yosemite's identity"—have been launched via MoveOn.org.
In the California state legislature, three representatives recently 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," according to the Sacramento Bee.
Big-wall climber Sean Plunkett says the name changes of facilities appear less significant when you look at the larger historical background. The designations of some natural features have already been changed several times from the names the original indigenous inhabitants gave them several times—first by Spanish explorers and then by Anglo visitors, acts that obscured some of the rich cultural heritage of the region's first people.
Nineteen sixties and seventies climbing pioneer Ken Boche noted, "In daily practice, the [most recent] name change doesn't seem to be that big a deal. Yes, it is outrageous, yet in keeping with the current pro-corporation political system, that the Trademark office allowed traditional names like 'Ahwahnee,' 'Yosemite National Park' and the others to be taken out of the public domain and given to a temporary concessionaire. But people will continue to use the traditional names as long as they convey best the localities to their audiences. When I climbed here in the '60s and '70s, it was always called 'The Lodge.' It's still being called that, and I've only referred to it as, 'The Lodge At the Falls' to distinguish it from 'Yosemite View Lodge,' located near the park boundary at El Portal."
Yosemite local Anna Horn told Alpinist: "The dispute to me can only be compared to a bunch of toddlers fighting over a shiny toy. Worse, because this is a fight amongst adults who should have intelligence that is developed beyond a toddler's. However, at the end of the day, I have not chosen to spend my life in this amazing place because of the names men gave to the buildings. Will I sling drinks at The Half Dome Village bar with the same smile and heart I did at The Curry Bar for so many years? Of course. I love this place and that is because of what Mother Nature created. It is home."
The good news for climbers is that one facility—the scene of many long tales and the place where thousands of mad plans have been hatched—is keeping its old name: Camp 4.
[This story was updated on March 17 at 3:04 p.m. EST—Ed.]
Sources: Ken Boche, Steve Bosque, Colby Brokvist, David Freireich (Aramark), Anna Horn, Glen White (DNCY), Sean Plunkett, Doug Robinson, Jacob Schmitz, with additional reporting by Chris Van Leuven, The (Bend, Ore.) Bulletin, buffalonews.com, cbsnews.com, fresnobee.com, nytimes.com, nationalparkstraveler.com, npr.org, National Park Service, thepetitionsite.com, prnewswire.com, sacbee.com, US Court of Federal Claims, yosemitepark.com
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