Community Columns

Reason prevails — mostly — in Yosemite naming rights settlement

Yosemite lovers are rejoicing this week with the news that the beloved names Ahwahnee, Wawona and Camp Curry have been officially restored and hopefully will remain in the public domain forever.

Delaware North, the previous concessionaire of our park, lost the $2 billion contract to provide visitor services in 2015 and immediately pronounced that they were the absolute and legal owners of all the iconic names in the park. They even had managed to trademark the name “Yosemite National Park” which prevented the successor operator from selling souvenirs with this obvious name attached. To show how extreme was their reach, even the slogan “Go Climb a Rock” was claimed by Delaware.

But, the settlement was not cheap. The federal government (that’s us, folks) chipped in nearly $4 million to resolve the issue, and Aramark, the new company, tossed another $8 million into the pot. (Delaware North had demanded more than $50 million in its initial settlement demands, but even $12 million for ‘stolen’ property hardly seems like a bargain.)

We have asked from the beginning of this whole fiasco: “How in the world did we get to this place?”

In hindsight, it was a perfect storm of federal government incompetence. First, the original agreements which documented the transfer of operations to Delaware North back in 1994 were clearly not prepared in a manner to protect our national assets. Then somehow over the years the U.S. Copyright Office allowed companies like Delaware to sneak through all kinds of names which clearly were in the public domain, and to claim ownership of same. Even the name Yosemite National Park was handed over to this private corporation and has been in limbo for the past three years.

Then, when documentation to shift ownership of the concession to Aramark in 2015 was written, National Park Service attorneys again failed to protect naming rights and the fight was on.

Countless friends and acquaintances have asked me over the past three years, “When will we get our Yosemite Park names back?” And, I have maintained throughout this ordeal that nothing was owed to Delaware, that these names were historical and clearly were owned by all of us. I suppose that I was half right on that matter. We did indeed get back the names, but at a large financial cost and also with more than three years of frustration while waiting for a settlement.

Sadly, on the very day that the dispute was announced back in 2015, the very old and classic name plate for the Ahwahnee was stolen from the front entry to the hotel. To this day, the tall stone column at the portals to the hotel grounds is missing its top piece. Many of us at the time smiled and said, “Well, since the name was stolen some good-hearted soul has simply taken the logo sign and is holding it safe until the problem is resolved.” Alas, the name is back, but the lovely carved sign is still missing.

I am proud to say that I, along with numerous other dedicated Yosemite lovers, never once uttered that dastardly name “The Majestic Yosemite Hotel.” It always was, and always will be “The Ahwahnee” and I cannot wait to get back up the hill and have lunch in America’s most magnificent dining room.

Dick Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in nonprofits. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.

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