Who owns Yosemite?

Who owns Yosemite?

Delaware North files lawsuit over trademark names

Yosemite, like all of our national parks, belongs to everybody. President Abraham Lincoln set a powerful precedent when he ceded Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove in 1864 on the express condition that "the premises shall be held for public use, resort, and recreation; shall be inalienable for all time." 


The Ahwahnee Hotel, a fixture in Yosemite Valley since 1927, was used as a Naval hospital during World War II. 

Writer Wallace Stegner extended the principal of public ownership when he described all our national parks as "the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst."

So it is troubling to hear that Delaware North Company, the outgoing concessionaire in Yosemite, continues to pursue a lawsuit against the National Park Service. Delaware North claims that it was required to purchase trademarks for the names of facilities, including "Ahwahnee Hotel", "Badger Pass" and "Curry Village", when it began operations in Yosemite in 1993 and that those trademarks are now worth $51 million.

Whatever the outcome of the lawsuit, it is disappointing that such a claim could even arise. Yosemite and all our national parks have been set aside as fundamentally public lands, and no part of them should be privatized.

It is not to say that there is no role for concessionaires in our parks. There is, and concessionaires do provide important services. It is not clear, however, why one company should be afforded a monopoly on all lodging in Yosemite. Why not allow different concessionaires to operate the various venues and inspire competition among them? Now there is an American idea!

Any harm caused by the quarrel over intellectual property, of course, pales in comparison to the devastation of Hetch Hetchy Valley - clear-cut, dammed and flooded a century ago. It was the only such destruction ever allowed in any of America's national parks. Restore Hetch Hetchy is committed to undoing this "Great American Mistake".

The dispute over these trademarks does raise questions about the future of Hetch Hetchy. The visitor experience in a restored Hetch Hetchy Valley can be enhanced without the extensive development that has taken place in Yosemite Valley. But exactly how Hetch Hetchy will be managed once the existing reservoir's water supply function is replaced outside the park is a question for the National Park Service and the American people to decide. What a wonderful, albeit perhaps contentious, discussion that will be.

First, we do need to get rid of that reservoir. Our legal petition asserts the value of restoration is far greater than the cost of making it possible, and that the reservoir therefore violates the California Constitution. We look forward to presenting our evidence in court.

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