Tori Thomas, The Union Democrat

A petition started Friday by a Tuolumne woman against proposed name changes to Yosemite National Park landmarks is gaining traction online.

Laurie Sylwester, a professor at Columbia College and former Tuolumne County District 3 supervisor, created the online petition titled “Delaware North: Release the name Yosemite National Park” at MoveOn.org.

The petition is in response to the National Park Service’s announcement Thursday that Yosemite officials plan to change the names of landmarks in response to a trademark dispute with New York-based Delaware North Companies, which has held the park’s concessions contract since 1993.

Hospitality giant Aramark was awarded the new 15-year concession contract, valued at $2 billion, in October.

Delaware North has also trademarked the phrase “Yosemite National Park,” according to Park Service officials.

“Delaware North is claiming to own the name ‘Yosemite National Park,’ ‘The Ahwahnee Hotel,’ ‘Wawona Hotel’ and ‘Curry Village.’ Release those names to the citizens of the United States,” the petition page reads. “These historical names include three indigenous American names, people with ancestors dating back 12,000 years in the region, long before Delaware North was a corporation. Our tax dollars support Yosemite National Park and no corporation may own that great heritage.”

People from various areas, including Florida, New York, Hawaii and Canada, have signed the petition so far.

“I know if I’m feeling indignant to the bone, that this is going to definitely hit a raw nerve for the billion people that have gone to Yosemite,” Sylwester said. “And I’m hoping (the petition) goes all over the world.”

Sylwester said she has been to Yosemite National Park more than 40 times. The first time she visited was when she was a child.

“I first camped near Camp Curry,” she said. “I just loved that — and playing in the river.”

The petition gives people a voice, Sylwester said.

“The fact that we can really get the word out without being rich and having to buy our freedom of speech — that’s amazing to me,” she said.

The petition, created Friday afternoon, had gathered more than 400 signatures by evening. It can be found online at petitions.moveon.org/sign/delaware-north-release.

“Yosemite provided us the opportunity to firsthand hear the first nation’s stories,” Sylwester said. “They can’t take away first nation names from places, that’s so obscene. I hope Congress gets riled about it. If (Congress) can’t figure it out, they’re completely ineffective.”

Delaware North Companies released a statement Thursday in response to the National Park Service’s announcement:

“DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite Inc. (DNCY) is shocked and disappointed that the National Park Service would announce unnecessary changes to the beloved names of places in Yosemite National Park, trying to use them as a bargaining chip in a legal dispute involving basic contract rights,” the statement said. “This is especially so because the NPS is fully aware that DNCY has offered to license these trademarks, free of any charge, to allow NPS or the new concessionaire at Yosemite to use the trademarks and avoid any name changes or impact on the park visitor experience while this dispute is being settled by the courts.”

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