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Lawsuit Sparks Yosemite Park Name Changes

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Yosemite National Park is changing the names of several iconic sites due to trademark concerns after awarding a $2 billion federal contract to a new concessionaire - but challenges the previous concessionaire's trademark claim to "Yosemite National Park."

The Ahwahnee Hotel, built in 1927, will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel on March 1 when Aramark takes it over from DNC Parks & Resorts.

Curry Village, which has borne that name since it opened in 1899, will be renamed Half Dome Village.

Badger Pass Ski Area, which became California's first ski resort in the 1930s, will become the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area; Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will be renamed Yosemite Valley Lodge; and the Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge.

Yosemite Superintendent Don Neubacher said the names are changing to eliminate potential trademark issues with DNC, which lost a $2 billion bid last year to renew its contract. The new contract was granted instead to a subsidiary of Aramark.

"While it is unfortunate that we must take this action, changing the names of these facilities will help us provide seamless service to the American public during the transition to the new concessionaire," Neubacher said. "Yosemite National Park belongs to the American people. This action will not affect the historic status of the facilities, as they are still important cultural icons to the National Park Service and the public."

DNC, a subsidiary of Delaware North, sued the United States in September, claiming ownership and the right to payment for trade names, trademarks and other intellectual property. Among the trademarks DNC sought to register in 2002, without telling the National Park Service, was "the phrase 'Yosemite National Park,'" the government said in its Jan. 4 answer to the DNC lawsuit.

DNC or its predecessor trademarked several other nationally significant properties without National Park Service concurrence, including the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, according to the government's response.

It does not plan to change the name "Yosemite National Park" despite DNC's claim.

DNC said in a statement that it is "shocked and disappointed that the National Park Service would announce unnecessary changes to the beloved names and places of Yosemite National Park, trying to use them as a bargaining chip in a legal dispute involving basic contract rights."

DNC company that it had been required to purchase the assets of the previous concessionaire, including its intellectual property, for $115 million in today's dollars when it took over operations in 1993.

DNC said it had "previously offered to lease these trademarks, free of any charge," while the dispute was settled in the courts.

It said the National Park Service repeatedly flip-flopped on the issue of intellectual property during the bidding process, informing bidders in December 2014 that they would be required to purchase DNC's intangible assets, then changing its mind eight months later.

"All we want in this is fair and just treatment," DNC said.

The Ahwahnee Hotel - which has hosted Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin and others - is beloved to thousands of park visitors.

Fresno resident Bill Campbell, who spent his honeymoon at the Ahwahnee 40 years ago, said he is devastated to see hotel's name being changed.

"It's not just a name, it's iconic. This is our history and you can't mess with that. The park belongs to the people, it's not right that this company is trying to profit from that," he said. "People won't stand for it."

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