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Key Concessions Contracts Up At Yosemite National Park, Along Blue Ridge Parkway

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The Ahwahnee Hotel in the Yosemite Valley is one of the prizes in the concessions contract for Yosemite National Park/Kurt Repanshek

The coming months could tell whether Xanterra Parks & Resorts and Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts are both still in an acquisition mode, or will look to stand pat, as concessions opportunities are weighed in Yosemite National Park and along the Blue Ridge Parkway.

In Yosemite, the National Park Service is seeking bids for the chance to operate The Ahwahnee and other plum lodging, dining, and recreation operations for the 15 years beginning in 2016. Along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the agency is seeking a business partner to operate lodgings and dining operations at Rocky Knob Cabins near Milepost 168 and the Otter Creek restaurant and gift shop at Milepost 60.8.

Xanterra last year pulled off a coup by landing the concessions contract at Glacier National Park over long-time operator Glacier Park Inc., and also renewed its contract at Yellowstone National Park for 20 years. In addition, the company of late has been cementing its position in the outdoors, having acquired both Austin Lehman Adventures (now known simply as Austin Adventures) and Vermont Bicycling and Walking Tours in the past nine months. Going after the Yosemite contract would be expensive, particularly in the wake of Xanterra's new contract at Yellowstone that calls for an investment of roughly $135 million there. But Yosemite would be a nice addition to Xanterra's portfolio, which also boasts lodging and dining operations at Grand Canyon, Death Valley, Zion, and Crater Lake national parks.

Yosemite National Park, a jewel in any concessionaire's portfolio, has been held by Delaware North for many years. The company, which also manages concessions at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, has been expanding its footprint in the parks recently, adding the lodging at Shenandoah as well as the Peaks of Otter Lodge along the Blue Ridge Parkway since the beginning of 2013. The company also has expanded its lodging holdings in West Yellowstone, Montana, operates lodges in Olympic National Park, and has retail outlets in Yellowstone and Grand Canyon national parks.

With Delaware North's acquisition of the concessions business at Shenandoah and Peaks of Otter Lodge, it will be interesting to see whether the company pursues the other Blue Ridge Parkway properties, although the operations are small. However, also up for bid is the contract to the Pisgah Inn located along the Parkway to the south of Asheville, North Carolina. That operation, with 51 guest rooms and a restaurant, might interest the company.

Also to be determined is how aggressive ARAMARK Parks and Destinations might be. The company lost the Shenandoah contract and that to the Kalaloch Lodge in Olympic to Delaware North. ARAMARK does operate in Denali, Mesa Verde, Glacier Bay, and elsewhere in Olympic (Lake Crescent, Log Cabin Resort, Sol Duc Hot Springs), and at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Otter Creek Facilities Review

The Otter Creek restaurant, gift shop and campground (MP 60.8) are located on Otter Creek, approximately 20 miles from Lynchburg, Virginia. The restaurant and gift shop facility at Otter Creek was designed as a modern board-and-batten frame building with traditional Southern Appalachian features such as a long porch across the front, a jerkinhead, or clipped, gable roof, and a stone chimney. The facility opened for business in May, 1960. Site stabilization of an area just behind the restaurant was also accomplished as a part of the restaurant building improvements that occurred during the spring of 1999. A montane oak-hickory forest is the principal plant community surrounding the restaurant.

Historically, the 3,190-square-foot facility was operated as a restaurant and gift Shop. The facility was open from May through October, serving breakfast and lunch. As it was configured, the dining room seated 57. The gift shop sold gifts, souvenirs, sundries and firewood. The facility has been closed since the end of 2010.

The adjacent, 69-site, Otter Creek campground, opened in 1960 with a small amphitheater established in 1962, is operated by the NPS, but was offered as a concession operation in the 2012 prospectus. Interested parties could improve and rent campsites, or have the opportunity to rent camping gear. Appendices to this RFEI contain additional information about the facilities.

Rocky Knob Facilities Overview

The Rocky Knob Cabins, a small, secluded complex of seven housekeeping cabins, a manager's house, and a shower/bath house is located near Floyd, Virginia. These historic structures constructed in 1941 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. First developed as "trail lodges," the cabins were remodeled for use as family housekeeping units in 1950. Six of the cabins include a bedroom and kitchen. The seventh cabin is ADA accessible and includes private bathroom in addition to a kitchen. Each cabin is 418 square feet. The 960-square-foot manager's house includes a bedroom, living area, kitchen, bathroom and office. The 792-square-foot shower house has men's and women's bathrooms and showers, and a laundry room. The cabins were historically available for rental May through October. The cabins have been closed since the end of 2012 due to lack of a concessionaire.

At Yosemite, the concessions contract would cover all lodging, dining, and retail shops in the Yosemite Valley, as well as the lodging operations at White Wolf, Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona, and the High Sierra Camps. The recreation businesses in the contract include the Badger Pass ski area and guide services for the mountaineering, nordic instruction, and ski school operations. Park Service officials estimate that if a company other than Delaware North landed the new contract, it would cost that company $32 million (in 2016 dollars) for "personal property, inventory, supplies, start-up costs (staff hiring, training, etc.) and working capital." Additionally, another $22.5 million would be owed Delaware North for "personal property such as furniture, trade fixtures, equipment, and vehicles," and an estimated $6.5 million for existing inventory. 

Start-up costs for a new concession are estimated at $3 million, and another $3 million would be needed to address deferred maintenance in park facilities run by the concessionaire.

The new concession contract is scheduled to begin on March 1, 2016, and will be issued for a term of 15 years. This is the park'™s primary concession operation and the largest concession contract in the National Park System.


*Anything* would be an improvement over Yosemite's current concessioner, which overcharges ridiculously ($110 a night for an unkempt, dirty tent cabin???) and does a lousy job.

But given Xanterra's track record of increasing prices to the point where the average Joe can't afford to stay in Yellowstone, I'm not all that enthusiastic about them, either.


NPS approves all rates.  Included in the Yosemite prospectus is a document with all the recently approved rates.  


Over priced and lousy job?  Is that why they are always sold out?

The problem with Park Service "approved" rates is where the concessionaire gets to pick the "comparables." Historically, the Yosemite Park & Curry Company (MCA) and Delaware North have asked that their comparable properties be the most expensive resorts in California. Is that appropriate for the national parks? It certainly makes Yosemite the most profitable park in the system. Twenty-five years ago, I wrote Yosemite: The Embattled Wilderness to ask that question--and many others. At the time, the franchise fee in Yosemite was a piddling three quarters of one percent. For a $100 million property, MCA paid just $750,000 a year. My book helped change that, and the reforms are noticeable, but not as noticeable as one would think. When last I checked, a night at the Ahwahnee was $499. I stayed there in 1982 for $75. Even adjusted for inflation, the rate should be $250 and not $500--which remains the top end of the luxury rate at most of our national parks, including Zion where I regularly lecture now. I want to see Xanterra bid on this one, because again, it is only competition that sets the proper rate. In Yosemite, the Park Service rolls over and plays dead. Carmel, California, should not be the comparable for any national park, at least, not if we believe in an American middle class. Every American should be able to stay in Yosemite at least once without having to take out a mortgage.

Every American should be able to stay in Yosemite at least once without having to take out a mortgage.

And they can, unless you need a mortage for a $20 campsite.

You can even stay cheaper than $20.  It's 5.00 for a permit processing, and 5.00 a night to stay in the backcountry per person.  So, 10.00 for a trek into the very well preserved Sierra wilderness...And since there is limitations on the amount of people that can visit a zone, the solitude is unbridled compared to the front country areas. 

Visiting Yosemite in 1959, my mother paid $3 to get in and zero to stake out a campsite. Today, she would pay $25 to get in (the equivalent, actually) and $60 for our three-night stay. In that case, she might not be able to afford it, since gasoline, car, tent, sleeping bags, air mattresses, Colman stove, food, etc., etc., etc., would all start adding up. The point is: The more we argue these issues in terms of "costs," the more we forget the hidden cost of the argument itself. Eventually, no other argument is allowed. So long as "someone" can afford to pay whatever I want to charge, I have the right to charge it. We'll soon see whether we can preserve a democracy on that argument. History is still betting that we can't.

So long as "someone" can afford to pay whatever I want to charge, I have the right to charge it.

Alfred, that is the philosophy that made this the greatest country ever to exist on earth.  And we are a republic, not a democracy.  Will we fail some day - most likely - particularly as we get farther away from our founding principles.

BTW - where is Lee with his entitlement jabs.  If you can't pay $85 for a three night stay in the park then maybe you should be working rather than going on vacaton. 

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