YOSEMITE — While today marked the first day of Aramark’s takeover as concessioner in Yosemite National Park, the dispute over the historic names of several iconic properties continues.
But as that issue works its way through the legal process, for many long-time employees it was a sad day and the end of an era.
“Badger Pass had a quiet day yesterday, with a small mix of locals and park visitors,” says Peter Leinau, ski instructor at Badger Pass. “Chuck Carter, at the ski school for over 40 years, turned in his keys, as did long time Badger Pass resort manager JR. A few remaining staff watched the sunset, then NPS park rangers arrived to ‘secure the buildings.’ Down in Yosemite Valley, the store was jammed with people buying up ‘trademarked name’ merchandise at 50 percent off.”
Peter was there for the surreal transformation. “Went to bed last night in Camp Curry, woke up in ‘Half Dome Village’ with a fabric sign to that effect over the Camp Curry sign,” says Peter, who notes that most signs in public areas had already been covered over with the new names.
Changes like that prompted one employee to voice what others were likely thinking — “Wow, this just got real.”
Peter noted many other tidbits from his morning in Yosemite — “An employee razor-scraping the DNC-Curry Village label off the door of the employee housing office; another employee using a propane torch to carefully loosen and remove the familiar DNC Half Dome logo off the drivers side door of a service vehicle. He was almost done with it when I drove by 20 minutes later…. One vehicle door down and how many more to go?”
Peter also reports that the Ahwhanee entrance sign was stolen Saturday night, and “The Majestic Hotel” is now on the road signs and valley maps.
“They have blanked out every mention of the Ahwhanee, going so far as to put black plastic tape over the name ‘Ahwhanee’ on the Historic Register plaque in front of the main entrance. In the Valley Store the shelves were partially stocked with the new merchandise, while some shelf units were covered over with blankets. The Human Resources Office for Delaware North had been vacated overnight and the Aramark staff were beginning to move in.”
Meanwhile, Peter says, the road signs still referred to “Badger Pass” as of 10 a.m., but not “Badger Pass Ski Area.”
“At Badger Pass the registers said ‘cash only’ throughout the day, with more Aramark transition staff and current and former Badger employees than guests, and there were at most 10-15 skiers and snowboarders visible on the slopes. The DNC Season Passes that were dated through Feb. 29 are being honored by Aramark (at least today :-).”
All “Badger Pass” signs on the resort and the familiar “Badger Paw Print” logo have been covered over with “Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area” signage, says Peter, although some staff were still wearing the old logo uniforms.
“Some staff name tags were still DNC but had tape over the DNC logo. Former and continuing employees socialized and discussed how long they had worked ‘in the park’ and what their plans were next.”
One random snippet overheard: “These are all DNC pens…do I have to get rid of them? Where are the Aramark pens?”
“The sun still came up, the waterfalls are still beautiful, and the skiing was fun regardless of the names applied but in my opinion, the names are a cultural resource that belonged to the people and should not have been able to be copyrighted,” says Peter.
Meanwhile, Rick Abramson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Delaware North Companies, Inc., issued a letter yesterday to the Department of the Interior, outlining what the outgoing concessioner intends to do about the disputed properties, and reasserting their stance that they have offered to transfer the historic names to the NPS while their court case is in litigation.
“As of this writing, DNCY has sold and transferred to the successor concessioner (Aramark) all of the property subject to Section 13 [of the contract between DNCY and NPS] except for four categories of property that DNCY has offered to sell and transfer to Aramark but which Aramark to date has declined to purchase for fair value,” the letter states.
The four categories referenced include:
- DNCY’s Yosemite-related trade names, trademarks, and service marks, including the Ahwahnee Hotel, Curry Village, Badger Pass, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, and the Wawona Hotel.
- All inventory and items such as plates at The Ahwahnee displaying the trademarks
- Capital improvements to real property at Yosemite
- Trade fixtures at Yosemite, including without limitation range hoods and the structural components of tents and tent cabins, and Real Property Capital Improvements
DNCY states that Aramark has refused to purchase the trademarks because DNCY and NPS dispute their fair value. In their amended complaint filed on Jan. 25, 2016, in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, DNCY asserted that “the appraised value of the intellectual property portfolio DNCY uses in its operations at Yosemite is no less than $44 million.”
In their letter to the Department of the Interior, DNCY says they have offered to transfer the trademarks, branded inventory and assets, and capital improvements to Aramark, and let the amount of compensation for the property be determined either by subsequent negotiation or in the litigation now pending in the court. They say this action “would fulfill the intent of the Contract that the new concessioner has all of the property needed to run the Yosemite operations with the same excellence with which DNCY has done so for the past 23 years, and that DNCY receive fair value for its property,” noting that they have forwarded a trademark assignment to Aramark, but that Aramark has not accepted their offer.
“As you know, DNCY has been attempting since 2014 to ensure that these transition issues were fully resolved if and when a new contractor took over concession operations in Yosemite. Unfortunately, NPS did not reciprocate and it is now apparent that Aramark will begin operations without having acquired all of the necessary property. Most importantly, by refusing to acquire or take assignment of the Marks [trademarks], Aramark will begin operations without ownership of the famous, iconic names associated with the concessions at Yosemite. This is obviously contrary not only to the plain language and intent of Section 13 of the Contract, but also to the interest of the public and its deep affection for the Marks.”
DNCY says they are willing to transfer the trademarks directly to NPS, “so long as DNCY’s right to continue to seek fair value for its property is not diminished.” If for some reason, NPS is not willing to take ownership of the trademarks, DNCY says they are willing to place the trademarks in escrow under the control of NPS “until the respective rights and obligations of DNCY, NPS and Aramark are resolved through the Litigation or otherwise.”
As for the capital improvements to property in Yosemite made while DNCY was concessioner, the company asserts that the contract requires Aramark to purchase those improvements, and list the appraised value in their lawsuit at no less that $14.2 million. They say they are seeking damages for NPS’s failure to require Aramark to purchase these assets at a fair value.
“To remove all doubt, DNCY is not abandoning this property, but instead is leaving it in the Park for Aramark’s use pursuant to DNCY’s obligations under Section 13 of the Contract, and is pursuing in the Litigation the compensation NPS should have made Aramark pay for this property under Section 13. We hereby provide notice to NPS that it is obligated to preserve and maintain the Capital Improvements after the Contract expires and refrain from taking any action, directly or indirectly, to waste or diminish their value until the Litigation is resolved.”