A lifeguard at Clark Street Beach.

The City of Evanston has handed out 25,000 free season passes to Evanston residents for Lake Michigan beaches. That’s down dramatically from 33,000 passes at the same time last year.

But that does not mean fewer people are taking in the sand and sun, according to Tim Carter, the city’s director of athletics and lakefront activities.

Rather, the city has stopped giving out the free tokens as if they were Halloween candy, and all the recipients had to do was fish a bunch out of a bowl.

Carter told the Parks and Recreation Board on Thursday evening that in 2022, when the city had just switched from “fee” to every day “free” for Evanston residents, 10 season tokens at a time were provided to anyone who wanted them, no questions asked, and no proof of residency required.

The idea was to get the tokens handed out as quickly as possible, although Carter told Evanston Now it was likely that some people took more than they could ever use. Non-residents likely got some as well.

Because the passes were free for all, the distribution became just that, Carter indicated, a “free-for-all.”

Those days are gone.

This year, Carter said, strict identification is required for proof of Evanston residency, before either a free season pass or single-day ticket is provided. Nine different documents are allowable to prove that you are who you say you are, ranging from a driver’s license to a utility bill to a voter registration card, among other options.

Carter said that despite the distribution crackdown, it appears that the same number of people are using the beaches this year as did last season. That’s because the number of tokens more accurately reflects the number of actual users.

Non-residents have to pay, with season passes ranging from $41 to $81, depending on date of purchase. Skokie residents get a discount. The same is true for daily tickets. Skokie residents pay $10, other non-residents pay $12.

Carter also indicated he will bring the board data on how many non-resident season and daily tickets have been sold.

There is something else free for residents along the lakefront. It’s the dog beach, which opened in March.

Carter said the city has distributed 831 dog beach passes so far.

Dogs and their owners enjoying the reopened dog beach.

While resident pooches are free, non-resident canines (or, rather, the people who bring them), are charged $200 for the first dog, and $75 per additional pup for the season.

Resident and non-resident dogs must also be licensed, and up to date with their vaccinations.

In an unrelated matter, the Parks and Rec board also talked about going to court.

Not litigation court, but the tennis court.

And, in keeping with the current reality, the board recommended that City Council change the code to mention “tennis/pickleball” activities on the courts, not just tennis. Pickleball has taken off in popularity in recent years.

Pickleball players at Lovelace Park.

The board also voted to allow more court hours, allowing the courts to open at 7 a.m. instead of the current 8 a.m.

So if you live near a park or rec center, it’s possible you may now be awakened some sleepy Sunday morning to the sounds of “thud” and “thwack.”

But it could be worse. At least it’s not leaf blowers.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. Tried to get our beach passes today. Was told i have to show proof of residency for my three year old twins. How am I supposed to do that exactly??!?!?

    1. Your tax return is the easiest way. I concede this might be hard for some parents who don’t claim them, or claim in alternate years. But I would start there. What’s super annoying is that they won’t even use their own records when most families already registered their kids for some activity or another and are in the system. They don’t make it easy for people who file for fee assistance, either.

      1. I think a system in which a resident could obtain up to 4 beach tokens for their household would lessen the burden of having to provide documentation for young children. If a family needs more tokens then they may have to get out the tax and birth documents. It seems reasonable that a resident should be able to bring a guest or two to the beach.

    2. Insurance card that lists their names as dependents is what I used. Easy peasy.

      I actually like the enforcement although perhaps there could be some latitude for young kids. But if people don’t want to go for free, they can always pay for a season pass or a daily pass….just like it used to be for decades.

    3. Same here. My three grandchildren live in a different suburb. Very disappointing that I
      can’t take them to the beach!

  2. I am a single-person homeowner who pays over 10k in property taxes annually. I get one pass. Meanwhile, a renter with six kids can get passes for each kid as long as they have proof of residency. I should at least get a guest pass. It’s one of the few city services I use.

  3. I am an Evanston resident and take care of my young Chicago grandchildren during the summer. Why can’t all children be free when supervised by an adult?

    1. This is completely reasonable to me. Children 5 and under or something to start. But you could make an argument 12 and under to me too.

    2. I had the same concern because I too care for grandchildren who are not Evanston residents. I wrote to my alderman to ask whether the City could make some allowance for this but never heard back. I guess we will not be going to the beach this summer.

  4. I think the new beach token system adds barriers to access for some people. My own experience had me going back twice because I lacked a separate ID for my husband (even though the bill I presented had his name and address on it). This did not cause any hardship for me as I have a very flexible schedule ; I could easily go back the next day. The person distributing the tokens acknowledged that while they thought the procedure unfair to some, they had strict orders to follow. So I wonder …. what about working families who might not be able to make multiple trips? Or kids who live in chaotic households; should they be denied going to the beach because someone didn’t have the wherewithal to get separate forms of identification together? This process needs to be more equitable. Distribution can be based on household; one ID is enough!

  5. All in all there are beaches with free access. The Evanston beaches are supreme in overall cleanliness and quality, location, ect.. devils advocate here I love me some Clark St beach or Lighthouse or Sheridan I mean no better place than Evanston.. but if it’s so tough just make that five minute to our cousin town and drive into Chicago..

  6. I have a daughter and 4 grandchildren that live in France. They always come for a month in the summer. Guess we wont’ be going to the beach! Last summer I was able to get a token for each of them.

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