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Tourists, collar-county residents will pay more to park at Chicago Botanic Garden

Updated: April 21, 2013 6:44AM

Tourists and anyone else outside of Cook County paying a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden are going to have to come up with a little more green.

But they’ll be on the honor system to admit that they aren’t locals — at least initially.

While there isn’t an admission fee for the 385-acre indoor-outdoor gardens in Glencoe — drivers crossing the county line to visit the garden in north suburban Glencoe will have to pay an additional $5 to park.

That means non-county residents will pay $25 for regular cars, $30 for passenger vans, $65 for limos, minibuses and RVs, under a measure approved by the Cook County Forest Preserve board on Tuesday.

The parking increase kicks in Saturday.

The new payment system will be enforced through the honor system, something that initially concerned Cook County Forest Preserve Commissioner Peter N. Silvestri.

But Ginny Hotaling, vice president of government affairs for the garden, said they’ll keep an eye on parking revenues, and if it appears all visitors are claiming to live in Cook County, they’ll start checking driver’s licenses at the entrance.

But it’s not clear how that would work since driver’s licenses don’t specify the county the motorist lives in, and some suburbs are split between more than one county.

With nearly 1 million visitors in 2012, about 30 percent were from outside the county, according to forest preserve documents.

Chicago drivers and those living in suburban Cook County will continue paying the current rate: $20 for a regular car, $25 for passenger vans, and $60 for limousines, minibuses and recreational vehicles.

“We feel it’s still one of the best values around,” Hotaling said. “There are venues out there where you have to pay for parking and admission,” she said, emphasizing that the driver pays a flat fee no matter how many people are in the vehicle.

The garden is prepared for disputes over cars with mixed passengers. Say there’s a mix of Evanston and Wisconsin residents in the car — the parking fee is will be determined by the home county of the driver.

It’s the first tiered pricing system for the Botanic Garden, but mimics the admissions practices of several other local cultural institutions, from the Museum of Science and Industry to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The idea to keep costs low for the locals, whose tax dollars already underwrite museum operations. That’s true of Museum of Science and Industry and the Art Institute, which sit on Chicago Park District land, as well as the Chicago Botanic Garden, which is under the authority of the county forest preserve.

The $30 million-a-year botanic garden operation includes $9.3 million from the county forest preserve, a taxing district separate from Cook County government.

By hiking the parking fees, the garden will raise an additional $98,000 annually to cover increases in health care, utilities and other costs, Hotaling said.

Prices for cars haven’t been raised since 2009 and, drivers of vans, limos, minibuses and RV haven’t seen a parking hike since 2007, according to forest preserve records.

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