Lawsuit Prompts Name Changes At Historic Sites In Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Tunnel ViewAn ongoing legal dispute between the National Park Service and one of its vendors is prompting the federal agency to rename some venerable landmarks in the park effective March 1. As unbelievable as it may seem, the name “Yosemite” is even at risk of being changed if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.

So far, the famous sites that will be receiving new names include the historic Ahwahnee Hotel, which will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and the Wawona Hotel, which will become Big Trees Lodge.

The Ahwahnee Hotel opened in 1927, and guests have included Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and Steve Jobs. One of its early employees was an aspiring photographer named Ansel Adams.

History oozes from every corner of the grand old lodge, and that is why the name change is almost incomprehensible to anyone who has been to Yosemite. So why the changes?

Delaware North Corp., the company hired by the federal government to run the hotels and all concessions in the park twenty-three years ago lost its contract when the NPS let it out for bids in 2014. According to a report in the Washington Post, “its contract with NPS had a provision under which NPS promised to ensure that any successor concessionaire, in the event of a re-procurement, would compensate DNC for the buildings, facilities and ‘other property’ that it owned in connection with the concession contract.”

DNC says that “other property” includes trademarks it claims to have on the names Ahwahnee, Wawona and even Yosemite, so it has filed a lawsuit saying it should be paid $50 million for the trademarks. The NPS says the trademarks were never part of the deal when DNC took over concessions at Yosemite and that the new concessionaire, Aramark, should not have to pay to use the names.

However, with Aramark scheduled to take over at Yosemite March 1, the NPS may be concerned that the federal government could ultimately be held liable if the courts rule in favor of DNC. Even though DNC reportedly offered to lend the names for free until its court claim is resolved, the NPS is taking no chances and is changing the names of the two hotels, a ski area and another lodge. So far, the NPS has not proposed changing the name of Yosemite to something else.

IMG_0011The Ahwahnee Hotel has graced the Yosemite Valley for almost one hundred years because its builder did something revolutionary at the time. Previous hotels made of wood had burned to the ground during raging forest fires, so the architects decided to make the exterior of something resistant to fire. What appears to be wood siding and structural timber is actually stained concrete that was poured into molds to simulate a wood pattern.

It was an ingenious move. Yet even though the architects were able to protect the Ahwahnee from natural disasters, they weren’t able to protect it from man-made disasters, and that is what this legal mess has become. So, the name Ahwahnee is sadly gone for now.

By the way, before it was named Yosemite, native Americans called the place, Ahwahnee, because it means “place of the gaping mouth.” It’s easy to understand why their mouths were agape if you look at the massive granite walls that reach thousands of feet into the sky, if you listen to the thundering waterfalls or stand beneath the giant sequoia trees in this amazing area. Unfortunately, the mouths of many park lovers today are gaping for a much different reason – a visceral response to the preposterous idea that anyone could own the names of national treasures.

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