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Yosemite Gets Its Historic Place Names Back

A settlement with a former concessions operator means Camp Curry, the Ahwahnee Hotel and other iconic sites can use their original names again

(National Park Service)
smithsonian.com

For generations, families vacationing inside Yosemite National Park stayed at the Ahwahnee Hotel, the Wawona, Badger Pass Ski Area and Camp Curry. But in 2016, plastic tarps went up covering the names of those iconic locations. Slogans around the park were also altered. The changes were a result of a lawsuit brought by a former concessionaire who owned the trademarks and service marks of many well-known Yosemite spots. That lawsuit recently settled, paving the way for the tarps to be removed to reveal the original names once more.

The spat, as Alex Wigglesworth at the Los Angeles Times reports, began in 2015 after the company running the hotels and restaurants in the park, Delaware North Inc., lost its contract, valued at approximately $2 billion in revenues over a 15-year period, to a subsidiary of rival Aramark.

When Aramark took over, Delaware North demanded $50 million to let the company continue using the names. As it turned out, when Delaware North took over operations of Yosemite’s concessions in 1993, it was required to purchase the intellectual property of the previous concessions company. That included the names of many of the locations within the park.

Rather than pay up, Aramark changed the names within the park while a lawsuit proceeded. The suit also took hundreds of slogans and logos used in advertising, on t-shirts and other gift-shop items out of circulation, including items that simply said "Yosemite National Park."

According to the terms of the settlement, Delaware North will receive $12 million for the names, including $3.84 million from the National Park Service and $8.16 million from Aramark. According to a press release, at the conclusion of Aramark’s contract in 2031, the names will transfer to the ownership of the NPS at no cost to the park.

“I’ve said from literally Day One that these names belong with these places, and ultimately belong to the American people,” Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman tells Wigglesworth. “So to have this dispute resolved is huge.”

Katia Hetter at CNN reports that on Monday morning, crews began uncovering the old signs, but it may take weeks or months to completely expunge the temporary names from websites, road signs and directories. One property, however, is still deciding whether to revert back to its old name; the former Yosemite Lodge at the Falls may decide in favor of retaining its shorter, sweeter new moniker, Yosemite Valley Lodge.

Visitors and locals are happy to have the traditional names back. “As a member of the Yosemite area community, and as someone who worked in the park for a decade, I am delighted this contract dispute finally got resolved and the beloved historic names are being rightfully restored,” Beth Pratt, California regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, tells Hetter. “Not that I ever called the Ahwahnee, the Majestic, but the official return is long overdue.”

Gediman, the Yosemite spokesperson, tells Carmen George at The Fresno Bee that the end of the Ahwahnee exile is a relief for everyone who loves Yosemite. “Places like Curry Village that opened in 1899 and the Ahwahnee in 1927 – these place names go with these iconic buildings here,” he says. “They have continued to be tremendously important to the American people, so we here in Yosemite National Park are just ecstatic to conclude the lawsuit, to be a party of the settlement agreement, and we feel it’s a huge win for everybody.”

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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