Video: Yosemite National Park hoping for smooth transition
Using plastic strips, canvas and what appeared to be pieces of heavy-duty electrical tape, workers covered up decades of history early Tuesday from the face of Yosemite National Park.
The historic, wooden “Curry Village” sign that welcomed visitors to their tent cabins was covered with a canvas- and rope-sign contraption, declaring the site to be “Half Dome Village.”
Street signs in Yosemite village that once directed visitors to the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls or the Ahwahnee Hotel were transformed into pointers toward the “Yosemite Valley Lodge” and “Majestic Yosemite Hotel,” respectively.
Little appeared to be sacred as a trademark dispute over ownership of the names played itself out at midnight, when Philadelphia-based Aramark took over management of the national park from the old concessionaire, owned by Delaware North.
Inside the newly minted Majestic Yosemite, a bronze plaque on the lobby wall still described the origins of the hotel that opened its doors July 14, 1927, but the word “Ahwahnee” on the plaque had been taped over, creating a stir as guests gathered around to photograph it.
The manager’s office, which Monday night had an ornately carved wooden sign reading “Ahwahnee Manager” above its door, was now identified with a simple brown “manager” sign.
Most of the changes took place overnight as Aramark and National Park Service workers scurried to replace signs to avoid being accused of infringing on Delaware North’s trademarks.
The “Yosemite National Park” T-shirts that had been selling at half off Monday were gone from the shops due to the fact that Delaware North has trademarked the phrase.
Even with all their efforts, workers did not manage to hide all the evidence of Yosemite’s heritage. Small wooden signs on hiking trails still directed walkers toward Curry Village, and the Wawona Hotel, which is closed for the winter, still had its name proudly in place Tuesday morning rather than succumb to its future moniker, “Big Trees Lodge,” that the Park Service has selected for it.
The changes were announced in January by the Park Service amid a nasty court fight with Delaware North, which had run the park since 1993 until losing its bid to renew the $2 billion, 15-year deal.
That fight is still going on, and Delaware North, based in Buffalo, N.Y., which has been pounded with bad press over its decision to trademark the iconic names, has said it will let the Park Service use the names until a court decides what their value is.
The company has asked for up to $51 million in payment for the trademark names and intellectual property from its years in the park, something the Park Service values at less than $2 million.
Aramark has said it plans to ensure a seamless transition for visitors, and Tuesday announced a new website, www.travelyosemite.com, for lodging and other reservations. It also promised renovations to dining areas and food courts and said it was removing bottled water from sale at the park and replacing it with more environmentally friendly boxed and canned water.
For the most part, the changes appeared to be mostly an irritant to longtime visitors in love with the names they have known for decades, but it depended on each person’s experience.
Kathleen Kuilanoff, an Orange County woman waiting to board a tour bus outside the Yosemite Valley Lodge, came to the park for what apparently was the last wedding at the Ahwahnee and said she was not upset because she is not a frequent visitor.
“To be candid, I haven’t been here in over 20 years,” she said. “But the people we’re traveling with, my cousin is 60 years old, he’s come here twice a year since they were small, and it is affecting them.
“The whole idea is sad to them.”