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Public outcry and pressing questions follow Yosemite name changes

The National Park Service’s announcement this week that it would change the names of some iconic Yosemite National Park places left many stunned.

The decision was driven by a trademark dispute with the company that will run concessions at the park until a new company takes over in March. But the disagreement is likely to continue. Here are some questions and answers to help you understand what is taking place.

Q: Who decided to change the names?

A: The National Park Service, though many people were involved in the decision, including top officials of the Department of Interior, which is responsible for the parks. Yosemite spokesman Scott Gediman said Friday that “it was the attorneys, mostly.” They included the park service’s solicitors’ office, which initiated the name-changing consideration more than a year ago. Discussions were held as well with National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis and officials at Interior Department headquarters.

Q: What names are changing?

A: The Ahwahnee hotel, which earned its name in 1927, will be recast as The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Curry Village, which opened in 1899, will become Half Dome Village and the Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge.

The popular Badger Pass Ski Area, which became California’s first ski resort in the 1930s, will be renamed the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area, and the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will be reconfigured as the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

Q. This sounds like a pretty big deal. Is it?

A: Potentially, it’s huge.

At the very least, it’s drawing a lot of attention. Gediman noted that he has conducted “over 50 interviews” since Thursday, including with media outlets from England, Japan and Canada. Beyond the immediate buzz, the name changes will define the memories of the roughly 4 million visitors who pass through Yosemite annually.

The circumstances surrounding the name changes, moreover, could well color relations between the park service and the Delaware North concession company, which is leaving Yosemite but still has contracts at the Grand Canyon, Kings Canyon and other parks.

Q. What will the changes entail, and what will they cost?

A: Building signs will have to be changed, as well as directional signs throughout the park. Websites, brochures and other materials will likewise have to be updated. Ripple effects could spread widely, as gateway communities and others that rely on Yosemite tourism adapt new nomenclatures.

“We have gotten an estimate that it’s going to cost well over $1 million,” Gediman said.

Q: When will the change take place?

A: March 1. That’s the date that the new concession company, a subsidiary of Aramark called Yosemite Hospitality Inc., is slated to take over for the next 15 years.

Q: Are the name changes irrevocable?

A: Not necessarily. Gediman said Friday that “if there is a resolution to the current dispute, it’s the park service’s intention to retain the original names.”

Q: Why is this happening?

A: That depends on whom you ask.

Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher said in his statement Thursday that the names were changing to eliminate potential trademark infringement issues with the current concessionaire, DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc. The Delaware North subsidiary, in a move that park officials called a surprise, obtained trademarks for the names in question.

The concession company countered, in its own statement, that the name change was being proposed “as a bargaining chip” in the legal dispute. The company added that it had offered the park service free use of the trademarked names to avoid name changes “while this dispute is being settled by the courts.”

Of course, it’s possible that both perspectives may be correct. Whatever the reason for the move, for instance, the park service certainly scored some points against the company in the court of public opinion. Media outlets were deluged with an unusual volume of calls and emails blasting Delaware North.

“It is shocking that they can claim to own names that were present prior to their involvement with the park,” Fresno resident Erin Lynn Cook wrote.

Q: What happens next in the legal dispute?

A: The Delaware North firm filed suit last September in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the Justice Department filed the park service’s response in early January.

The likely next step is for Chief Judge Patricia E. Campbell-Smith, appointed to the bench in 2013 by President Barack Obama, to issue a so-called “scheduling order” in the next several weeks, spelling out various hearing dates and document deadlines.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-0006, @MichaelDoyle10

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