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Picknickers get a pleasant and unpleasant surprise

Friday, December 03, 2004
Daily Southtown
by Kristen McQueary

There's good news and bad news.

The good: Loyal picnickers who traditionally wait in long and last year, frigid lines to reserve Cook County Forest Preserve picnic groves can now reserve them from the comfort of their homes.

The bad news: The permit may cost more.

Ending a longstanding tradition of making permit-seekers reserve picnic groves in person, the forest district announced Thursday that on Jan. 3 at 6 a.m., picnickers can go online and click their reservation and pay with a credit card. Like always, it's first come, first served.

But the district also is raising nearly every permit fee. For a picnic shelter, costs will go from $40 to $50. To reserve a soccer field, the cost will go from $20 to $50. The increased fees are projected to raise an additional $200,000 for the forest preserve district, recreational Supt. Vito Benigno said.

Still, the trade-off might be one pain picnickers are pleased to pocket.

Last year because of the county building fire at 69 W. Washington, permits were distributed only at the River Forest headquarters. Long lines forced hundreds of residents to wait outside while district officials served popcorn and hot chocolate to keep them comfortable.

Those wishing to wait in line despite the new online service can do so at the River Forest headquarters or 69 W. Washington office.

Southland resident Jim "Moose" Murphy made a tradition out of waiting in line at the downtown location, even camping out a day ahead of time to reserve the first permit each year.

"We've had people come in on New Year's Day, just to get in line," district spokesman Steve Mayberry said.

The new technology will not necessarily save money by trimming staff, Mayberry said. Though the technology will relieve permit workers from the crush they experience on Jan. 3, employees still will be needed for the rest of the year to process the permits and handle complaints.

The computer system is the same for those who reserve in person and for those who reserve online. If two people are vying for the same grove, whomever "clicks" first – whether from their home or a district worker doing the "clicking" in person – that person gets the permit.



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