Peter Cavanaugh

Delaware North vs. US

That’s how it’s coming down. Delaware North vs. The People of the United States.

It’s Jan. 8, 2015. On this date in history, the first American commercial corporation was chartered as The New York Fishing Company in 1625. Today we see the Delaware North Companies claiming ownership of these names: The Ahwahnee Hotel, Badger Pass, Curry Village, the Wawona Hotel and Yosemite Lodge. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, such allegation arises as the National Park Service is accepting bids for a new concessionaire’s agreement at Yosemite with the submission window now closing on Jan. 20.

Curiously, Delaware North had yet to officially put itself in the running at the start of this New Year, although it’s had plenty of time to do so. DNC has only held the current contract since 1993. It was supposed to expire in 2008, but was extended by mutual agreement until now.

This privately held corporation, one of the world’s largest, says it wants $51 million for “intellectual property rights” to Yosemite names, several of which date back more than 100 years – the Wawona Hotel to 1865 and Curry Village to 1899. Perhaps it’s going to bail and simply wants a goodbye sweetener?

“Leave the gun. Take the cannoli.”

Yosemite spokesperson Scott Gediman is quoted as being surprised by DNC’s position, saying, “These names belong to the American people.”

I couldn’t agree more. Judging from area comments coming from all sides of the political spectrum, I’m certainly not alone.

John Pero, Oakhurst/Coarsegold Tea Party Coordinator: I think Delaware North is trying what Jessie Jackson and Al Sharpton are so good at. A shakedown of any business or group that doesn’t agree with them. This is nothing more than a blackmail attempt by DNC to poison the well and attempt to make it extremely difficult for any other concessionaire to win the bid at Yosemite. Get the hook and remove them, they’ve overstayed their welcome.”

Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler: “What I really don’t understand is how DNC got the trademarks without our park service knowing about it. Someone dropped the ball. Now everyone who bids faces a disadvantage. But I do think DNC does a really good job.”

George Whitmore of the Sierra Club (among the first to successfully ascend El Capitan in 1958) notes that the DNC also succeeded in trademarking the name of the Park itself. “Yosemite National Park is a name that DNC now claims. I guess I won’t be able to peddle my “Yosemite National Park” T-shirts at the Fresno County Fair next fall. I suspect that DNC has kicked the sleeping dog. Renewal of the concession contract had been a non-issue until now, but this has awakened the public to the fact that there is something to be concerned about.”

While Yosemite action, valued at over $140 million annually, was Delaware’s first venture into operating within a National Park, it has since extended its involvement to the Grand Canyon, Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yellowstone. Is the name “Old Faithful” now regarded as company property? How about “North Rim,” “Park Gate,” or “Shenandoah?” DNC is even running the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Will they soon say the names Mercury, Venus, the Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and poor little Pluto belong to them? We’ll see what Walt Disney has to say about that last one.

What I find most surprising in this whole creepy development is that my own experience with DNC has been nothing but positive since moving to Oakhurst eight years ago. Up to and including highest executive levels, I have always found local DNC employees to be extraordinarily helpful, thoughtful, competent and thoroughly professional in every way without exception.

There’s something happening here I just don’t understand.