Individual concessioners also do their own lobbying, and one of the most effective lobbyists is Hardy. Those who know him in Washington say he manages to depict the interests of his company as the needs of Yosemite, and he shows a great love for the park. "I don't know of anybody who didn't like the man," said Ira Whitlock, a former congressional liaison in the National Park Service's Washington headquarters.
So influential is Hardy that he managed in 1986 to obtain a $1.2-million congressional appropriation for utilities for a new Curry Co. employee dormitory in Yosemite Valley--when the financially strapped Park Service was skimping on maintenance of trails, campgrounds and restrooms. Hardy could make such company needs known to congressmen in informal settings. He hosted lawmakers on company-paid, mule-pack trips to the high country. Former Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced), one of Hardy's guests on these trips, obtained the dormitory money through a line-item add-on to the Park Service budget.
For nearly two decades, MCA has benefited from the work of Hardy and his staff. The number of visitors to Yosemite has jumped from 2.3 million in 1974 to 3.4 million last year. Accordingly, MCA's profits mushroomed and are estimated at $12 million to $17 million a year. The Curry Co. refuses to disclose any figures and contends that its profits are actually below average for resorts. It does acknowledge, however, that, while amounting to a mere fraction of MCA's overall earnings, the Yosemite concession gives the corporation access to one of nature's gems. "MCA takes great personal pride in participating in a place as world-renowned as Yosemite," a Curry Co. official said.
Under the 30-year contract MCA acquired in 1973, the Curry Co. pays the federal government only .75% of its gross receipts each year. In 1988, the most recent year for which figures are available, that equaled $590,000, less than the Curry Co. spent that year on its public relations office and advertising, according to the Park Service.
Recent efforts by preservationists to portray his company as profiteering at the expense of the park could unravel all that Hardy has built. He claims that environmentalists are being "used" by unnamed outsiders who want a foothold in Yosemite when MCA's contract expires. "They want to smear the Curry Co. so they can diminish the value of it and get the contract," he said.
Yet Hardy does not seem particularly worried that the preservationists will succeed. "We have a long track record, we are well-financed and I believe we are the right players to be in the next contract," he said. He points to accomplishments: an upgrading of concession buildings in the park, company-provided nature education programs for visitors and the relocation of some company operations, including the reservation office, from Yosemite to Fresno.
He no longer believes that 90% of Curry Co. housing can be moved outside the park. (As many as 1,200 Curry Co. employees--including Hardy--live in Yosemite Valley, a sore point for many preservationists.) Although he foresees the possibility of some cutbacks, he insists that most employees must be near guests to ensure good service. Moreover, he says, commuting would simply add to congestion on park roads.
Looking ahead to the next contract, Hardy argues that more accommodations should be kept for tour-bus travelers. The Park Service now permits the Curry Co. to set aside 18% of its rooms for tour buses. If the Park Service would raise this to 22%, Hardy said, there would be 120 fewer cars overnight in the parking lots. But, of course, the kind of people who ride tour buses do not want to walk 100 yards in the middle of the night for a bathroom, he continued. So Hardy would like to replace about 200 of the company's historic tent cabins with two-story motel units with baths.
In spite of Hardy's self-assuredness and his considerable plans, he occasionally is reminded that he does not call all the shots. After meeting with Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., the Park Service's boss, this summer to discuss concession contracts, Hardy was approached by Steven Goldstein, a longtime and influential aide to Lujan. Hardy made known his displeasure over news stories emanating from the Interior Department about Lujan's efforts to make concessioners share more of their profits with taxpayers. "Hardy gave Steve a steely-eyed look and said coldly, 'I see your name in the paper too much,' " related a colleague of Goldstein's who ran into the aide shortly after the encounter. " 'I don't want to read your name in the paper in connection to this. Can't we work something out without the papers?' "
Goldstein, who will not publicly discuss the incident, was indignant. "I work for the secretary of Interior and the President of the United States," he replied icily.