This trademark fight at Yosemite could mean bizarre things for our national parks.

Yosemite National Park is home to the sprawling, beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel, a historic lodging site, built in 1927 and declared a national landmark in 1987.

The Ahwahnee Hotel's interior was used as reference for Stanley Kubrick's classic film "The Shining." I'm guessing Kubrick liked how the hallways were just wide enough for two creepy twin girls, and how the doors failed to deflect axes. Photo via Joeyp3413/Wikimedia Commons.


But before you start packing your suitcase and pull up "Ahwahnee Hotel" on your travel-deal-website-of-choice to book reservations, there's something you should know:

After 90 years, the Ahwahnee Hotel has a new name — and it's disappointingly generic.

The Ahwahnee Hotel is now The Majestic Yosemite Hotel — and it's not the only Yosemite site to have recently undergone an underwhelming renaming.

Curry Village, a small lodging town in the valley near the famous Half Dome rock formation, is now known as Half Dome Village.

The Wawona Hotel, which was built in 1876, is now known as Big Trees Lodge.

Basically, the original and historic names of many locations in Yosemite have been changed to reflect the jumble of keywords you'd enter in Google if you forgot their real names.

"You know ... that lodge with the big trees. The big trees lodge?" Photo via Rennett Stowe/Wikimedia Commons.

So why all the sudden boring name changes?

If you've ever eaten at a national park (that is, eaten something besides the squished sandwich and granola bar in your backpack), you may have noticed that much of the food is provided by private companies, not the government.

Which, in theory, is pretty cool.

It allows the parks to make money by selling retail and dining space, and park visitors get to come back from their hikes to enjoy perfectly seared, bone-in rib eyes.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Everyone wins.

Right?

Wrong. It turns out that when a company takes over selling food and providing lodging at a national park, sometimes they also get ownership of the historic names of those locations.

Until recently, concession sites at Yosemite were handled by a company called Delaware North, a multibillion-dollar organization that claims to be "one of the largest hospitality management companies serving national and state parks."

The dining hall at Ahwahnee — I mean, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images.

Delaware North took over concessions at Yosemite in 1993, and when it did, according to company spokeswoman Lisa Cesaro, it also had to purchase "the assets of the previous concessionaire, including its intellectual property at a cost of $115 million in today’s dollars."

In plain-speak, that means that the rights to names like "Ahwahnee" and "Wawona" were part of the package Delaware North purchased.

In 2015, Delaware North lost a $2 billion bid to renew its contract with Yosemite — and this is where things got sticky for the names of Yosemite's iconic landmarks.

Delaware North had to hand concession rights over to another company called Aramark. Delaware North also demanded to be paid back for the names it bought, asking for $51 million. The government thought that price was a "gross exaggeration" and valued the names at $3.5 million.

That conflict is still settling. But Delaware North has essentially said that while it still wants the $51 million, the National Park Service can keep the names the same ... for now.

The National Park Service then, for some reason (presumably to minimize damages), went ahead and changed all the names in Yosemite anyway.

The NPS even spent an estimated $1.7 million on temporary new signs in the process:

Photo by Rory Appleton/The Fresno Bee via AP, File.

The National Park Service may ultimately win the names back. But for now, staying at the Ahwahnee Hotel or Curry Village is a thing of the past.

To make things even more complicated, Delaware North has also made a trademark claim on the name "Yosemite National Park" itself — any time it appears on park merchandise.

In fact, T-shirts bearing the name "Yosemite National Park" have already been removed from some of the park's gift shops.

This is a huge deal! Half the reason to go to a national park is to get a hoodie with the name of the park on it. That way you can tell your awesome hiking story every time someone asks about it.

Plus ... gorgeous postcards like this one?

Photo via Bev Sykes/Flickr.

Those would be removed from stores as well. If Delaware North's trademark claim is upheld, you wouldn't even be able to mail-brag about your sweet hiking trip to your friends back home in Nebraska.

Worse yet, the National Park Service might have to start selling postcards at national park locations featuring their new, way-too-on-the-nose, generic park names — like There Are Waterfalls Here National Park or The Big One in California National Park.

In fact, if companies keep trying to hustle the National Park System out of naming rights, soon we may all be getting postcards from parks with slightly different names:

Like this one in Arizona.

Formerly known as The Grand Canyon. Image (altered) via iStock.

Or this one, from South Dakota.

Formerly known as Mount Rushmore. Image (altered) via iStock.

Or from this famous park in Wyoming.

Formerly known as Yellowstone's Old Faithful. Image (altered) via iStock.

So what's the big deal? They're just names, right?

Besides being lodged into the memories of millions of families who've passed through the park in the past 90 years, the names of Yosemite's historic sites have significant cultural value.

Yosemite Valley circa 1870. Photo by Carleton E. Watkins/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

"Ahwahnee," which means "big mouth," is the Native American name for Yosemite's central valley. "Wawona" is thought to be an onomatopoeia for the sound of the great horned owl — believed to be a guardian spirit of the area.

Changing the names of these places erases their history; those names have been around way longer than the National Park System.

Most of all, though, this is outrageous because the national parks shouldn't belong to companies. They belong to the people.

The very act that created the National Park Service stipulates that the care and conservation of the parks and wildlife therein is for the enjoyment of people and future generations.

We visit national parks with our families. We create memories there and share pictures on Instagram to get the most Likes. We pay for the upkeep and survival of the parks with our tax dollars. We make laws to protect them and protest when they're in danger. They're ours.

They should belong to all of us.

Yosemite National Park. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images.

Filmmaker Ken Burns once called the National Park System "America's best idea," which is saying a lot ... after all, this is the country that invented the space shuttle, the cheeseburger, and christened the sacred marriage of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin Robbins in stores across the country.

But Great Ideas are what America does.

It's definitely not a Great Idea™ to have the names of our historic and beautiful national parks wrapped up in a petty intellectual property battle.

That's not what our national parks are here for.

They're for loving, cherishing, and gazing up at views like this:

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images.

The names of the places we visit are a key factor in the lifelong memories we create there. No company should be able to take that away.

Most Shared
Twitter / The Hollywood Reporter

Actress Michelle Williams earned a standing ovation for her acceptance speech at the 2019 Emmy Awards, both in the Microsoft Theater in L.A. and among viewers online.

As she accepted her first Emmy award for Lead Actress in a Limited Series/Movie for her role in FX's "Fosse/Verdon," she praised the studios who produced the show for supporting her in everything she needed for the role—including making sure she was paid equitably.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
'Good Morning America'

Over 35 million people have donated their marrow worldwide, according to the World Marrow Donor Day, which took place September 21. That's 35,295,060 who've selflessly given a part of themselves so another person can have a shot at life. World Marrow Donor Day celebrates and thanks those millions of people who have donated cells for blood stem cells or marrow transplants. But how do you really say thank you to someone who saved your life?

Eighteen-year-old Jack Santos wasn't aware that he was sick."I was getting a lot of nosebleeds but I didn't really think I felt anything wrong," Jack told ABC news. During his yearly checkup, his bloodwork revealed that he had aplastic anemia, a rare non-cancerous blood disease in which there are not enough stem cells in the bone marrow for it to make new blood cells. There are 300 to 900 new cases of aplastic anemia in America each year. It is believed that aplastic anemia is an auto-immune disorder, but in 75% of cases, the cause of the disease is unknown.

It wasn't easy for his family to see him struggle with the illness. "I didn't want to see him go through something like this," Shelby, his older sister, said. "It was terrifying, but we were ready for whatever brought with it at the time."

Keep Reading Show less
Family

Someday, future Americans will look back on this era of school shootings in bafflement and disbelief—not only over the fact that it happened, but over how long it took us to enact significant legislation to try to stop it.

Five people die from vaping, and the government talks about banning vaping devices. Hundreds of American children have been shot to death in their classrooms, sometimes a dozen or so at a time, and the government has done practically nothing. It's unconscionable.

Keep Reading Show less
Education & Information

After over a hundred days protests and demonstrations over basic freedoms in Hong Kong, the city has been ground down both emotionally and economically. So, the government there is looking for leading PR firms to rehabilitate its somewhat authoritarian image with the rest of the world. Only one problem, they're all saying no.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy