Photo: Walking dogs at Rock Meadow, Belmont
By Mary Trudeau
Conservation Commission’s agent
In this period of social distancing, public open space provides a valuable respite for citizens experiencing the loss of “normality.” While the Belmont Conservation Commission remains committed to keeping Rock Meadow open and available to residents, the current pandemic has increased meadow usage well beyond normal expectations. While the majority of users are maintaining social distancing guidelines and following the regulations governing the use of the meadowlands, a minority of users are not adhering to the rules. These issues must be addressed if Rock Meadow is to remain open.
Belmont requires all dogs to be leashed. Currently, at Rock Meadow, many dogs are not being leashed, and are running freely throughout the grasslands. Unleashed dogs are dangerous for walkers and dangerous to other dogs. In recent weeks, running dogs have knocked over children, frightened people and otherwise interfered with the safe use of the Meadow. As it is uncertain whether pets can transmit the virus on their fur, or by other means, loose dogs are problematic on a public health level, as well as being illegal in Belmont. Fines of up to $500 per offense can be issued for the failure to leash your dog in Belmont.
Another concern is that dog feces are not being picked up consistently. Some of this is a function of dogs running freely, and the culture of the meadow is being misunderstood by the influx of new visitors. Fecal contamination throughout the Meadow is a risk to ground and surface waters, as well as to people and wildlife. The Commission has installed a “poop station” at the Mill Street entrance, and we pay for the poop cans to be emptied weekly. The Commission is concerned that if this feces situation worsens, Rock Meadow will become a public health hazard, forcing the closure of the Meadow to all.
Please stay on the paths. While the COVID virus is at the forefront of our minds, Lyme disease remains rampant in this area. The grasslands along the paths are a source of ticks. The current pattern of users leaving the established paths and traversing the grassy portions of the meadow is increasing contact between humans, dogs and ticks. Ticks are particularly problematic this spring due to the mild weather experienced this winter. The shortened freeze period has fostered the development of an early and intense tick infestation. Pedestrians and dogs running through the meadowlands, off of the designated paths, are likely to pick up ticks and tick-borne illnesses.
More than 50 years ago, the Belmont Conservation Commission successfully urged Town Meeting to contribute to the purchase of this land from McLeans Hospital, recognizing the need to preserve this “last piece of open space in the congested and overbuilt Town of Belmont.” Over the past two decades, the Conservation Commission has worked tirelessly to improve and maintain Rock Meadow, an environmentally sensitive resource area. The Commission recognizes the importance of having open space available, particularly during periods of social isolation. Unfortunately, the current abuses at Rock Meadow are unsustainable. We would hate to close the Meadow, but we need visitors to step up and protect the resource area. Leash your dogs. Pick up poop and discard it in the appropriate containers. Stay on the paths. Check yourself for ticks. Maintain social distancing.
Thank you for your cooperation. Let’s keep Rock Meadow safe and accessible for all during this challenging time.