Jeff Jardine

Changing of signs a lesson for all things Yosemite?

Cyclists ride by a sign near Curry Village listing iconic places on Wednesday afternoon in Yosemite National Park in September.
Cyclists ride by a sign near Curry Village listing iconic places on Wednesday afternoon in Yosemite National Park in September. jlee@modbee.com

A warning to Warner Bros., our local community college district and anything else bearing the name Yosemite: Make sure you’ve done your duly diligent trademarking.

Otherwise, the outgoing Yosemite National Park concessionaire might claim ownership to the names Yosemite Sam and Yosemite Community College, the Yosemite Lanes bowling alley, the Yosemite Pathology Medical Group or another of the 20-plus Yosemite whatevers in the old-fashioned telephone book, many of which are located along Yosemite Boulevard in Modesto. Which also means that the state, county and city better own title to that moniker as well.

The same, in theory, could happen to anything Yosemite in Merced, including Lake Yosemite near the UC Merced campus, or anywhere else that isn’t already locked up.

Ludicrous? Certainly. Or at least it would have seemed so a few years back. Now, not so much – not after Delaware North quietly trademarked the names of Yosemite National Park’s most well-known and endearing assets, including The Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels, the Yosemite Lodge by the Falls, Badger Pass Ski Area and Curry Village. (Note to Warriors guard Steph Curry: trademark your name before you-know-what beats you to it.). Oh, yeah, and the company claims marketing rights to the phrase “Yosemite National Park” as well.

Yosemite, by the way, is an Indian name meaning “those who kill.” A more modern translation might be “those who want to make a killing.”

Delaware North did this, it would seem, to hedge its bet against losing out as the park’s concessionaire as the contract came up for bid a couple years ago. It lost out to Aramark, and now claims those names and intellectual properties surpass $50 million in value. The National Park Service and just about everyone else who cherishes Yosemite would beg to differ.

It’s not that simple. This could only happen because the park service got sloppy and failed to secure name ownership when it had the chance. The Yosemite Park & Curry Co. served as the park’s concessionaire for 94 years. Corporate giant MCA bought Yosemite Park & Curry Co. in 1973. But after Japanese conglomerate Matsushita (now Panasonic) bought MCA for nearly $6.6 billion in 1990, the park service refused to have a foreign company running the concessions in an American national park.

Delaware North got the contract and began running the show in 1993. When it came up for bid again in 2014, Aramark won. Only then did the issue of name ownership of the three hotels, the ski resort and Curry Village surface. Delaware North said “they’re ours,” the park service said, “What?” and the legal wrangling began.

A “Gotcha!” on Delaware North’s behalf? Not necessarily. The park service last week announced it would save millions by renaming each of the places at an estimated total cost of $1 million to taxpayers. From the outside looking in, it looks like Delaware North placed a $51 million ransom on the trademarking and the park service called its bluff. Certainly, this is one of the few times when the federal government looks like the victim and not the perpetrator when it comes to controlling land uses.

Barring any sudden change of heart, trademark-name yard sale or settlement, The Ahwahnee will soon become The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. “Ahwahnee,” according to Chief Tenaya, means “gaping mouth,” in reference to the shape of Yosemite Valley and its steep walls. The Wawona will become the Big Trees Lodge, since “Wawona” means Big Trees (except at Calaveras Big Trees, where it means “Wawona”). Yosemite Lodge becomes Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village becomes Half Dome Village and Badger Pass Ski Area becomes Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

That could leave Delaware North holding $51 million worth of historical but otherwise worthless names and intellectual properties, and thus the impetus to negotiate.

Typically the winners in these battles are the lawyers, and the losers are the people – meaning the taxpayers, who pay the lawyers. Changing the names of iconic Yosemite places isn’t like telling high schools they have to change their mascots because the name “Redskins” insults Native Americans. That is all about respecting cultures.

These impending changes stem from company officials having a hissy fit because they lost the contract on one side combined with inattention to detail on the other.

Which should tell every owner of every business or public entity – going by Yosemite or anything else – to make certain you’ve trademarked your names. Otherwise, you might find the signs of change and a change of signs in your future.

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