GELFAND’S WORLD--A tiff between competing corporations threatens the multigenerational cherished memories of families. At least for my family it does. We remember going to Camp Curry and having breakfast at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We remember spending New Year's Eve at the Wawona Lodge as 1999 turned into 2000. We remember seeing a bear cub looking through our window. The traditional names are in danger now that the Delaware North Corporation will be replaced by Aramark as the concessionaire. There is a remarkably ironic twist to this story, but it doesn't make it any nicer.
Yosemite had its origins as a protected area starting in the administration of Abraham Lincoln. It officially became a national park in 1890. Those of you who went to the campfire talks at Camp Curry (later renamed Curry Village) probably heard this story. Those of us of a certain age remember the fire fall, which consisted of hot embers being pushed over the edge of Glacier Point, half a mile above our heads, creating the red hot image of a waterfall. The Park Service eventually abandoned this ritual as being incompatible with the idea of nature preservation, but lots of people retain the memory.
For most of its history, Yosemite National Park had its food and lodging services run by a company that originated in 1899. It was called the Yosemite Park & Curry Co. The idea of an organization that wrangled horses while running campgrounds and a cafeteria, and had done so for the better part of a century, was impressive.
And then we watched that other ritual of the 1980s and '90s. The homegrown Curry company sold its assets to MCA. And then the new owner got bought by a Japanese corporation, Matsushita. This provoked a new round of American fretting over the ongoing sale of our assets to foreign buyers. The Secretary of the Interior decided that our landmark national park should be run by an American company.
Thus the advent of the Delaware North corporation on the National Park scene. They came as the result of an attempt to preserve something. At one level, it was just national pride. On another level, it might be argued, it was the notion of preserving the national honor, character, and integrity.
Surely this attempt at preservation included the saving of traditional words and names. I mean, you wouldn't expect the towns of Lexington and Concord to be forced to call themselves differently due to a dispute between two corporations.
But now, the Delaware North Corporation, which won the concessions contract after Curry/MCA/Matsushita was forced out in the early 1990s, is itself being forced out by the newly awarded concessionaire, Aramark corporation.
And that's the crux of the matter. Delaware North claims that in its sale of all Yosemite assets to Aramark (something required of each successive owner since Matsushita), it has valuable additional holdings, those being the names of some of its properties. Thus for the Ahwahnee, the name itself is being treated as a multimillion dollar asset. Somehow, the term Yosemite National Park seems to have been trademarked with hardly anyone noticing.
The names of the Wawona, the Yosemite Lodge, and the Badger Pass ski complex are being treated as intellectual property, and Delaware North claims its right to compensation on the order of $50 million, give or take. Apparently it didn't make enough money over the past couple of decades and now requires more.
The Park Service considered the conflict and has now decided that the issue will be made moot. Each of the hotel locations, Curry Village, and the ski area will now be named something different.
The best description of the situation comes from Kevin Drum of the Mother Jones website, who has written two pieces. The first article is, as Drum concedes, a bit extreme, but it does manage to point out that the Ahwahnee will now be called the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, and Curry Village will be called Half Dome Village. The Wawona is scheduled to become Big Trees Lodge.
Drum has a little fun with the travesty: "Coming soon: Yellowstone National Park will be renamed Majestic Geysers Park. Redwood National Park will become Incredible Trees Park. And Everglades National Park will become Big Swampy Park."
Drum followed up with a second article which walked the first one back a bit. To summarize, the whole conflict is in reality a contract dispute between two corporations. Delaware North thinks it is entitled to more compensation than the Park Service and the new concessionaire are willing to allow.
Although I appreciate Kevin's careful reporting, I would like to suggest one element of the controversy that is being downplayed. It's the attitude of the Park Service. The United States government should have shown a little more spine, and told the litigants that the names in question are a heritage of the American people and are not to be messed with.
I'd also like to think that earlier generations of Park Service leadership wouldn't have been such wimps. I can remember talking with the Park Service's Yosemite Superintendant about 25 years ago. I argued that Yosemite is a special place, and his reply was, "It is a special place." It was clear that he, his colleagues, and numerous organizations dedicated to preservation would be working to protect it. And that preservation should include names that are remembered fondly by hundreds of thousands of people.
There is the additional effect, not inconsequential, that these proposed name changes would make us look stupid and craven in foreign nations. Shall the Eiffel Tower be renamed, and under what circumstances? The question is ludicrous.
I would hope that the Park Service was just being a little thoughtless and shortsighted, will rethink its position, and will push for a quick resolution. And then win.
In discussing this story with some friends, it was pointed out to me that thousands of couples have chosen to be married in Yosemite Valley. The federal judges who have presided over the little courthouse at the base of Yosemite Falls have also managed to marry a lot of people on trails and along the Merced River and up on towering crags these many years. Think of what those couples must be thinking now that the name of Yosemite National Park, the location written on their marriage certificates, is claimed to be the trademarked property of an eastern corporation. As one such person said to me, with just a bit of tongue in cheek, "WE'RE NOT MARRIED!" What must it be like for those couples? We have to preserve the sanctity of those marriages. This should be the one thing that conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats can agree on.
January 17, the date of this writing, is the 22nd anniversary of the Northridge earthquake and the 19th anniversary of the death of a friend by gunfire. Both events are worthy of serious thought.
(Bob Gelfand writes on culture and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Vol 14 Issue 6
Pub: Jan 19, 2016