I just returned from an incredible trip to Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks and was overwhelmed with the sheer beauty and majesty of these parks. As Ansel Adams said in describing Yosemite, “It is all very beautiful and magical here – a quality which cannot be described. You have to live it and breath it, let the sun bake it into you.“
While getting ready for my trip, I was reminded of the ongoing dispute between Delaware North and Yosemite National Park. Delaware North is a Buffalo based company that supplied park concessions -- providing food and lodging and running the gift shops and recreational activities -- at Yosemite starting in 1993. Delaware North at that time took over the concessions contract from the Curry Company which had been in charge of concessions for 94 years prior to 1993. But in early 2016, Delaware North lost its concessions contract when Yosemite awarded a 15 year concessions contract worth about $2 billion to competitor Aramark. Delaware North still provides concessions to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks nearby, and to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, among other parks and entities.
Delaware North is not seeking to overturn the decision to award the contract to Aramark. Instead, Delaware North is seeking ownership and over $50 million for its trademarks, trade names, and other intellectual property. According to Delaware North, the contract originally signed in 1993 stated that the company was required to purchase both tangible (buildings and equipment) and intangible assets from the previous vendors, Curry Company, for $61.5 million -- and that whoever succeeded them would also have to purchase the intellectual property which included the trademarks.
Delaware North had trademarked the names of various accommodations within Yosemite owned by the National Park Service (NPS), such as the well known Ahwahnee Hotel, a National Historic Landmark, Curry Village, a grouping of cabins, and Yosemite Lodge. The company had also trademarked ski slopes, the famous Half Dome image, and the words Yosemite National Park as the phrase appears on t-shirts, pens, and mugs.
So the NPS decided to change the famous names that are at issue -- now the Ahwahnee is known as the Majestic Hotel, Curry Village is called Half Dome Village, and Yosemite Lodge has been renamed Yosemite Valley Lodge. The Wawona Hotel, also a historic landmark, is now Big Trees Lodge, and Badger Pass Ski Area is now Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area.
The NPS is currently in litigation over these trademarks and other intellectual property rather than pay Delaware North or require Aramark to purchase the trademarks. NPS also values the intangible property at far less than the $50 million Delaware North is requesting -- and more like $3.5 million or less. From NPS's perspective, Delaware North accumulated the trademarks over the years the company held the contract and is now demanding that the park pay an unreasonable amount of money to get them back. Some people think: shouldn't these trademarks belong to the park and to the public and not a private, extremely profitable company? Others believe that Delaware North is engaging in extortion. It should be noted that concessionaires are required to pay a portion of their profits back to the national parks for the right to run their businesses in the parks.
I love our national parks and I have fond memories of the Jacobs family who owns Delaware North. I grew up in Buffalo and went to school with the beautiful, smart, and kind Lisann Jacobs, one of the Jacobs family kids, from kindergarten through high school. I'll be interested to see how negotiations in this dispute progress and am hopeful that an agreement is reached shortly.
While exploring these beautiful parks, I often thought of John Muir who said that "in every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." He was filled with joy as he experienced the simple beauty of nature in his beloved national parks, and he noted that "everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.