Yosemite Contractor Leaves — And Takes The Landmark's Names With It | KERA News

Yosemite Contractor Leaves — And Takes The Landmark's Names With It

Mar 3, 2016
Originally published on March 3, 2016 12:27 pm

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Big Trees Lodge.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park could be forgiven for not recognizing those hostelries' names.

They used to be called — and were famously known as — the Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels.

"It's just really surreal," said Monica Hubert, a former manager of the Wawona. "I mean, it's a National Historic Landmark."

The hotels and other Yosemite landmarks have been renamed because of a contract dispute.

The outgoing concessionaire, Delaware North, lost its bid for a new contract to manage the properties to Yosemite Hospitality, LLC, a subsidiary of Aramark. Delaware North sued, saying the bidding process was unfair.

As the case progressed, it came out that Delaware North had trademarked many of the names of properties it managed.

"When we used the Ahwahnee Hotel in marketing, we always put a little 'R' by it," said Dan Jensen, who managed Yosemite properties for Delaware North. "The existence of the fact that these names are protected and trademarked is just not a surprise to anybody. It wasn't sneaky."

Delaware North wants Yosemite Hospitality to pay for the trademarks and other property, which the company says are worth more than $50 million. No thanks, says Yosemite Hospitality — and the National Park Service. They put the value of the assets at just $3 million.

This week Yosemite Hospitality took over and all the signage is being changed. The dispute has created a huge uproar.

"We strongly believe that the names of these facilities belong with them, they're historical," said park spokesman Scott Gediman. "They belong with the facilities and ultimately belong to the American people."

The National Park Service maintains the name changes are temporary. Meanwhile, it's asking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to nullify the trademarks.

The former Wawona manager, Monica Hubert, said that would make sense.

"I mean those names are all oriented towards the [Native American] tribes that were in Yosemite," she said. "There's reasons why they're actually named those things."

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

In Yosemite this week, workers are putting new names on road signs and black tape over plaques and historic places. That's because of a trademark dispute between the Park Service and the company, until couple of days ago, that had run the hotels and restaurants there. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: The names associated with Yosemite National Park are as iconic as its great vistas.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From the Wawona Tunnel entrance, Yosemite Valley provides a breathtaking sight. It is one of California's most widely-known attractions.

SIEGLER: The Ahwahnee and the Wawona Hotel are also symbols of Yosemite for people like Monica Hubert. She's a former manager of the Wawona Hotel, which is now named the Big Trees Lodge.

MONICA HUBERT: It's just really surreal (laughter) to take - I mean, it's a National Historic Landmark.

SIEGLER: So is the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, previously known as the Ahwahnee.

HUBERT: I mean, those names are all oriented towards the tribes that were in Yosemite. There's reasons why they're actually named those things.

SIEGLER: There has been a huge uproar over the renaming of these and other iconic Yosemite spots. People are wondering how the trademarks of these national landmarks got into private hands. In the end though, this is less about the privatization of national parks and more about a good old-fashioned contract dispute. You know, money.

DAN JENSEN: It's not really just the names. I mean, the names are somewhat of a red herring.

SIEGLER: Dan Jensen managed Yosemite properties for Delaware North, the park's outgoing concessionaire. When his company lost its bid for a new contract at Yosemite, it sued, saying the selection process was unfair. Then later, it came out in court that Delaware North actually owned trademarks to many of these names.

JENSEN: When we used the - you know, the Ahwahnee Hotel in marketing, we always put a little R by it. The existence of the fact that these names are protected and trademarked is just not a surprise to anybody. It wasn't sneaky.

SIEGLER: Delaware North wants the new concessionaire to pay for the trademarks and other property it says is worth more than $50 million. No thanks, say the new concessionaire and the Park Service, which puts the value of those assets at just $3 million. This week, the new concessionaire took over and all the signage is being changed. Park spokesman Scott Gediman maintains this is temporary.

SCOTT GEDIMAN: We strongly believe that the names of these facilities belong with them, they're historical. They belong with the facilities, and ultimately belong to the American people.

SIEGLER: The Park Service is also asking the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to get involved and nullify the trademarks. Kirk Siegler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.