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Another Voice: Yosemite’s names hold extraordinary memories

By John Reynolds

The names of some of the iconic sites in Yosemite National Park are set to change on March 1. Delaware North Corp. of Buffalo, the park concessionaire through Feb. 29, has quietly trademarked the use of the names. These names – Ahwahnee, Wawona, Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, Badger Pass – and the architectural and cultural significance of these places, are part of the patrimony of the citizens of the United States. They are part of what makes Yosemite a national park and an internationally recognized World Heritage Site.

In 1980, the National Park Service (NPS) completed Yosemite’s first management plan. It was controversial. Thousands of people nationally offered opinions to the public planning process, writing personal messages to the team. Besides recognizing the natural and cultural superlatives of Yosemite, particularly its famed valley, they told us time after time they were “conceived” in the Ahwahnee or a tent cabin in Curry Village; they spent their honeymoon at the Wawona or the Yosemite Lodge; that their parents had met at Badger Pass.

The national park experience, and particularly at Yosemite, is remarkable, possibly unique in how we personalize the experience and the places. The names become code words for their extraordinarily meaningful memories and dreams of ones to come.

Delaware North, the park concessionaire under a complicated contract with the NPS, trademarked the names without consulting the NPS. This stealth move demonstrates corporate greed, forsaking the whole point of an individual’s personal Yosemite experience. This corporate greed became more important than public service and American fairness through competition for the next concessionaire at Yosemite.

If allowed to stand, the taxpayer and park visitors will be hit up for $44 million, paid from the operating accounts of the already financially strapped NPS.

The result will be an enriched corporation, a reduced ability of the NPS to serve more than 4 million visitors to Yosemite and to care for the park’s nationally significant natural and cultural resources, and the loss of the historic, iconic, names that are part and parcel of Yosemite’s allure.

It could signal to every other concessionaire to try trademarking every national park in the country.

Exercise your rights as an owner of this and every park in this great nation. Object to your members of Congress, to Yosemite National Park, to the president.

Do not allow surreptitiously acquired windfall profits to sully America’s best idea, the national parks.

John Reynolds served 39 years in the National Park Service, including as its deputy director. He is a member of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks.