Here’s Why Some of Yosemite’s Iconic Landmarks Are Being Temporarily Renamed

The U.S. government is battling a private company for the rights to historic names

yosemite trademarks
Randy Pench/ZUMA Press/Corbis

As one of the United States’ oldest national parks, Yosemite has a special place in the country’s history. As John Muir once wrote, "Yosemite Park is a place of rest, a refuge from the roar and dust and weary...None can escape its charms." Places like Badger Pass, Curry Village, and the Ahwahnee and Wawona Hotels are iconic landmarks that for many visitors are almost synonymous with the park itself. This month, however, the National Park Service has temporarily renamed all of these places as it battles a private company for the rights to these historic monikers, Sarah Kaplan reports for the Washington Post.

The trademarks on each of these names, as well as some uses of the phrase “Yosemite National Park,” currently belong to a company named Delaware North. Since 1993, the company operated many of Yosemite’s hotels, concessions and activities, but has since lost its contract with the National Park Service. During the time it worked with the NPS, however it secured trademarks for some of the park’s most popular features. These names are now at the heart of a vicious legal battle over who owns the rights to them and how they can be used.

"[The] general thought was that names of buildings go along with the buildings, and no trademarks were necessary,” Yosemite National Park spokesman Scott Gediman told Christopher Solomon for Outside Magazine. “[Delaware North] filed for trademarks without telling NPS, and we thought buildings and names went together.”

To be clear, the park itself isn’t in danger of losing its name. However, Delaware North does own the trademark for using the name “Yosemite National Park,” along with the aformentioned four landmark names, as well as the park’s iconic logo featuring the famous Half Dome, in promotional materials and souvenirs like t-shirts and coffee mugs, Michael Doyle reports for McClatchy DC.

This isn’t the first time that Delaware North has tried to trademark a name related to property owned by the United States. In a recent motion by the National Parks Service for the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board to cancel the company’s trademarks, the federal agency noted the company’s application to trademark the name “Space Shuttle Atlantis” in relation to its concessions at the Kennedy Space Center last year, Michael Hiltzik reports for the Los Angeles Times.

While the National Parks Service argues that the company sneakily registered these trademarks and is essentially holding them ransom, Delaware North says its trademarking is a standard practice, and it just wants its successor, Aramarkto pay for the full value of the intellectual property it is now managing.

"We're not threatening to keep the names," Dan Jensen, a consultant to Delaware North, tells Hiltzik. "But we are entitled to fair value."

While Delaware North offered to let the national park use its trademarks for free while the case is ongoing, the Parks Service opted instead to rename its signs and logos, an effort that cost an estimated $1.7 million. As of March 1, the historic Ahwahnee Hotel is now named the “Majestic Yosemite Hotel,” and Curry Village is now “Half Dome Village,” raising an outcry from many long time visitors, Kaplan reports.

“It’s not just a name, it’s iconic. This is our history and you can’t mess with that,” Fresno resident Bill Campbell tells Elizabeth Warmerdam for the Courthouse News Service. He spent his honeymoon at the Ahwahnee Hotel 40 years ago. “The park belongs to the people, it’s not right that this company is trying to profit from that. People won’t stand for it.”

Whatever the outcome of this legal battle, it won’t come soon: according to Doyle, trademark board proceedings are scheduled to last through May 2017.

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