A nylon sign covers the wooden Camp Curry sign in Yosemite National Park. RORY APPLETON rappleton@fresnobee.com
A nylon sign covers the wooden Camp Curry sign in Yosemite National Park. RORY APPLETON rappleton@fresnobee.com

Local

The temporary signs covering Yosemite landmarks’ names won’t come down anytime soon

By Rory Appleton

rappleton@fresnobee.com

August 30, 2017 08:51 AM

It has been 18 months since a white nylon sign reading “Half Dome Village” was stretched over the 103-year-old Camp Curry sign in Yosemite National Park, and it will probably be a while longer before it comes down.

The National Park Service and Yosemite’s former concessionaire, Delaware North, remain embroiled in a legal battle over the names of some of the park’s most cherished landmarks: The Ahwahnee, Curry Village, Badger Pass, Wawona Hotel.

Delaware North holds trademarks to these names with the U.S. Patent Office and has asked Aramark, the company that beat out Delaware North for the concessions contract in 2016, to pay for its trademarks and some building improvements as part of the changeover. Aramark and the government have maintained the names were never Delaware North’s to begin with, and the two sides are more than $40 million apart on the amount owed.

Given the distance between the parties and how slowly the courts move in such cases, both sides agreed this week that it could be years before a resolution is reached.

On Aug. 15, the government was dealt a minor blow in federal court. Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith threw out the parks service’s claim that Delaware North broke its concessionaire’s contract by acting in bad faith, and therefore did not have a right to collect any money after the breach. Campbell-Smith ruled that any termination due to bad faith – if any did occur – would not void Delaware North’s right to collect. The government maintains several other claims as a defense to Delaware North’s lawsuit.

Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said the government’s position – that the Yosemite names belong to the American people, not a company – has not changed.

“It’s still the park’s desire to retain the original names,” he said. “We’re just working through the litigation.”

March 1, 2016The date the name changes in Yosemite National Park went into effect.

Delaware North spokesman Glen White said the case is “about the fair value of trademarks, as well as tangible property, that the National Parks Service was contractually obligated to require Aramark to buy from Delaware North” after the changeover. He added that Delaware North offered in October to let Yosemite use the contested names free of charge, and that offer still stands.

White said Delaware North purchased some trademarks from The Curry Company, which held the concessionaire’s contract prior to Delaware North taking over in 1993. Delaware North also registered other historic names, which he called “an act of good stewardship” that protected the company, future concessionaires and the American people from the misuse of Yosemite names.

Aramark and the government chose not to use the names while the legal battle unfolds. On March 1, 2016, nylon signs went up at what was once Curry Village. Street signs were amended. Plaques and awards at The Ahwahnee – now The Majestic Yosemite Hotel – were covered in duct tape or removed. All merchandise with the former names were pulled from shelves.

A settlement seems unlikely. Delaware North is asking for around $45 million for the trademarks and building improvements, while the government maintains that if it owes anything, it’s more like $1.5 million.

The parties – two large companies and the federal government – also likely have the cash to keep the lengthy legal process going. At the Aug. 15 hearing, the government was represented by four lawyers with various titles within the U.S. Department of Justice. Gediman said they were salaried staff attorneys, so a running cost of legal fees was not available.

For now, White said, the two sides are working on a schedule to share evidence. They are due back in court in October.