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California Moves to Bar State Park Trademarks

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) - A California lawmaker hopes to avoid the catastrophe the National Park Service faces as it scurries to rename Yosemite icons with a bill to bar the state from contracting with companies seeking to trademark state park sights.

Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said Assembly Bill 2249 ensures that future state lodging or concession contracts won't allow private companies to claim trademarks over anything related to the California state parks they operate in.

Cooley's proposal comes in response to the National Park Service's dispute with a former Yosemite National Park concessionaire that claims it's owed $51 million for trademarks relating to a group of hotels it operated over the last 23 years.

Instead of fighting the concessions company, formerly known as DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc., the National Park Service said it will change the names of the hotels. On March 1, the legendary Ahwanhee Hotel changes to The Majestic Yosemite Hotel and campground favorite Curry Village becomes Half Dome Village, among other changes throughout the park.

The name changes outraged Californians and spurred a bipartisan group of California lawmakers into action. As of Wednesday, 16 lawmakers have agreed to co-author AB 2249 in an effort to protect the historic landmarks of California's 280 state parks.

"Our state parks are not like football or baseball stadiums, trading sponsorship deals to the highest bidder," said Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced. "The people of California protect and preserve these landmarks as a part of our history, and it is the people of California who own their storied names."

While the bill won't impact the changes in Yosemite, it would prevent similar situations in historic California parks like Big Basin Redwoods or the Tahoe State Recreation Area.

Cooley said California's parks "showcase" the beauty and history of the Golden State and it's important to prevent contractors from co-opting historical sites. All three of the disputed Yosemite hotels are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"This bill is a small but vital act to protect our parks for many future generations of Californians to enjoy," Cooley said in a statement.

AB 2249 would also disqualify vendors from future bids if they attempt to trademark names associated with a state park venue.

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