Yosemite landmarks set to lose famous names in 'ugly divorce'

Mon Feb 29, 2016 7:21am EST
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By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - What would John Muir do?

On Tuesday, more than 125 years after the Scottish-American naturalist's advocacy helped inspire the creation of Yosemite National Park, some of its most hallowed sites are set to be stripped of their famous names as part of a bitter, $50 million legal squabble.

At issue are the monikers for such beloved visitor attractions as the Ahwahnee Hotel, a national historic landmark built in 1927 whose name reflects the Northern California park's American Indian heritage. Yosemite, which regularly ranks among the top U.S. tourist attractions, saw a record 4.3 million visitors in 2015.

"This dispute is like an ugly divorce, with the park-loving public as the children," San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders wrote.

The court fight began quietly in September, when the Delaware North Company, having lost its lucrative Yosemite concessions contract to competitor Aramark, sued the National Park Service claiming ownership of the trademarks, which it valued at $44 million. The company is also seeking compensation for millions of dollars in other assets, as well as damages.

The lawsuit made nationwide headlines in January after park service officials announced that it would be forced to rename the landmarks by March 1, the day Aramark formally took over, infuriating park visitors who saw Delaware North as a selfish corporate villain holding the historic names hostage.

"This is corporate greed," Eric Raymond, a Bay Area resident wrote in a Tweet urging support for a petition that seeks the release of the names "to the citizens of the United States."

The National Park Service also claimed in its response to the lawsuit that Delaware North failed to notify them when it registered the names years earlier, accusing the company of "a business model whereby it collects trademarks to the names of iconic property owned by the United States."   Continued...

The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, California is shown in the October 5, 2006 handout photo released to Reuters February 4, 2016.  REUTERS/Kenny Karst/Delaware North/Handout via Reuters