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Hefty charges to use the public beaches in Evanston absurd

Susan Daker Column

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Before the beginning of every summer, I always make the same goal for my three-month vacation: Spend as much time on the beach as possible.

I’ve lived in the Chicago area all my life, so I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on the shores of Lake Michigan. This summer I’ll be living in downtown Evanston just a few blocks from the Clark Street beach, which I was planning on making my new hangout.

But while walking along the lake this weekend, I noticed booths that said something about beach tokens.

Beach tokens? That’s right. It costs $7 dollars a day to sit on the beach in Evanston. Kids between the ages of 1 and 11 are charged $5. Beach lovers younger than one can enjoy the beach for free.

Until the beach opens June 15, Evanston and Skokie residents can buy a beach token, giving them unlimited use, for $18 – quite a deal. Nonresidents can purchase a beach token for $34. After the beach opens, the prices are hiked to $34 and $50, respectively.

A family of two parents and three children could pay up to $90. If the family had a dog, they would pay another $40 to use the special dog beach at Church Street.

Evanston’s charging for the beach doesn’t surprise me. Several North Shore communities have similar policies.

Evanston’s neighbor to the north, Wilmette, also charges residents to use the beach. A daily pass for a Wilmette resident costs $3.25 and nonresidents pay $6.50, which means an Evanston resident could spend a day on the beach in Wilmette for less than it costs in Evanston.

In Lake Bluff, where I’ve typically spent my summers, residents can use the beach for free. However, nonresidents must pay an exorbitant $10 a day.

In Lake Forest, the beach is free, but people can’t park within a mile or two of the beach unless their car sports the city’s vehicle sticker.

So even these beaches, which are considered public, really aren’t accessible to everyone.

I understand that it’s expensive to keep beaches manned with lifeguards and free of litter. This year, Evanston’s beach expenditures will total more than $410,000, according to Doug Gaynor, director of Evanston’s Department of Parks/Forestry and Recreation. The beaches’ total revenue is $420,000; so the city makes $10,000, Gaynor said.

I know the city desperately needs money. So why wouldn’t Evanston charge people to use the beach?

While it’s at it, maybe the city should charge kids to play in the park. Of course children under one could use the playground for free.

In the summer, Evanston sponsors free fishing at Lovelace Park for children younger than 16. Fishers do not need to purchase a license and the city provides them with equipment and bait for free. Surely charging a small fee would generate more revenue for the city.

More than 15,000 people attended the free Ethnic Arts Festival last year. Sounds like another promising revenue source to me.

And why are Skokie residents allowed to pay the same fee as Evanston residents for beach tokens? Why not shift some of the Evanston tax burden onto them?

Evanston does offer to pay a small portion of the fee for people who can prove they can’t afford tokens. Though I am a college student, I probably could afford to pay $18 to use the beach for the summer. Or I can use North Beach, which is free for Northwestern students. Better yet, I can go home to Lake Bluff.

But that’s not the issue here. Why should anyone have to pay to use any of Evanston’s five public beaches? The beach is public, just like parks, which means it should be accessible to all community members, not just those people who can afford it.