Rock Meadow Can Only Remain Open With The Public’s Cooperation

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.  

Town Ponders Closing Rock Meadow Parking Lot To Lessen Overcrowding

Photo: Parking lot, Rock Meadow

3:15 p.m., Sunday, April 12: Rock Meadow.

On a warm afternoon under a dull sky, the gravel parking lot is packed to the gills with sedans and SUVs. Mill Street and the lot for Lone Tree Hill have their share of cars. In fact, a Belmont Police patrol car sitting along the roadway was surrounded by a line of vehicles.

With nearly everything under lockdown due to COVID-19, an open space with no restrictions has become the destination of choice.

On the trails – marked with neon green signs imploring patrons to “beware of ticks” – people (largely couples or families, most without masks) are stretching the legs with their four-legged pets nearly all abiding by the leash bylaw with an outlier playing catch far from where the police could see the offense.

While far from being standing room only, Rock Meadow has been attracting a crowd.

“We’re finding that as the weather is getting nicer that more people are out at Rock Meadow using the trails,” said Town Administrator Patrice Garvin speaking to the Select Board via Zoom video conference on April 13.

But the increased popularity of the 70 acres of meadow, wetlands, streams, and woods has residents and the Conservation Commission which manages the land asking if this newfound destination location has been overrun by people who believe the open spaces gives them the freedom to flaunt the town’s bylaws and the need for personal space.

“Drove by [Rock Meadow] the other day and there were so many cars parked every which way that cars couldn’t ride on both sides of Mill Street without crossing the yellow line,” said Gioia Rizzo commenting in the Belmontonian Facebook page.

“I am sick and tired of being trapped in MY house because people don’t have the decency to abide by the rules and stay home,” she said.

The increase in foot traffic on Rock Meadow’s narrow trails has created a greater chance of contact with other strollers, noted Garin. Some people are abiding with social distancing and wearing masks, others are not.

And it’s not just the people that are causing concern. Pet dogs are being let off their leash to run on conservation land which is a no-no in Belmont. The Conservation Commission is finding it frustrating that dogs are relieving themselves without any pickup from owners.

The town has discovered that an increasing number of people driving to the open space are non-residents “coming from other communities we believe don’t have walking areas because everything is closed,” said Garvin.

As of now, the town is simply monitoring the area “to make sure [activity] doesn’t get out of hand,” she said.

If the crowds not following distancing guidelines and dogs sans leashes continue, “we’re gonna have to have a conversation about closing the parking lot. But we haven’t gotten to that point yet,” Garvin said. “It’s not something we want to do,” she said, pointing out that it will likely push people onto other open spaces such as Lone Tree Hill and Beaver Brook.

In an attempt to raise awareness of the town’s bylaw, Belmont Town Clerk Ellen Cushman has sent the town’s 1,600 dog owners an email reminding them of their responsibility to keep their pets under control.

Going To Rock Meadow? Put A Leash On Your Pooch!

Photo: Rock Meadow Conservation land

It’s spring. You and your canine have been cooped up for … how long? The temperature outside is going up and the sun is warm. With all of Belmont’s parks closed, the destination of choice for Fido and you to go for a romp has become town conservation land including Rock Meadow and Lone Tree Hill. For many owners, it’s been the first chance to allow their pets to stretch their four legs for a month.

And that’s been a problem in the eyes of the town official who manage the land and who see after residents’ health. Off-leash dogs have become a nuisance for several reasons as their owners are congregating along the trails during this time of social distancing.

And they are now putting their collective feet down. In coordination with the Belmont Conservation Commission, Belmont Board of Health, Belmont Police and Belmont Animal Control, the town is placing all visitors at Rock Meadow and Lone Tree Hill Conservation Land and Trails on notice that there are expectations of responsible behavior throughout the properties.

“We are all a part of this community and we are asking for everyone’s help and cooperation so we can keep our treasured trails open and safe for everyone,” read the notice released this week.

First and foremost, DOGS MUST BE LEASHED AT ALL TIMES. Off-Leash dogs are not permitted in Belmont. Going forward, this bylaw will be strictly enforced with fines issued with a fine up to $500.

Then there is the issue of DOG WASTE. Officials remind owners to pick up and properly dispose of your dog’s waste and anything else you bring with you. If there is no trash barrel or if the barrel is full, please take it home. Do not leave bagged waste on the property. You can be fined up to $500 if you don’t pick up after your poochie.

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE IF YOU ARE SICK. Rules relating to self-isolation for those who might be sick with the coronavirus applies even when in the great outdoors.

Relating to the previous statement, MAINTAIN PHYSICAL DISTANCING; keep you and your dog at least 6-feet away from other trail users and do not cluster in groups as that may prevent others from getting around you outside a safe six-foot distance.

And lastly, IF A PARKING AREA IS CROWDED, SO ARE THE TRAILS. Residents should visit another Conservation area if the parking lot is full or come back at a time when it is less crowded. Do not park in front of Conservation Land gates or along Mill Street. This will be monitored by Belmont Police.

“Once again, WE are all part of this community and we are asking for everyone’s help! If you see a walker violating these rules, please kindly remind them,” read the email.

Discover Rock Meadow With Belmont Historical Saturday, Oct. 5 at 1 PM

Photo: Rock Meadow Conservation Land

The Belmont Historical Society invites the public to explore one of Belmont’s great open spaces with a Walking Tour of Rock Meadow this Saturday, Oct. 5 at 1 p.m. The walk is free and open to the public.

Learning about the history of Rock Meadow by walking the conservation land with Anne-Marie Lambert. Discover the history and uses of the land off Mill Street which include:

  • wetland habitat for fish and beavers,
  • hunting and fishing grounds for the Pequosette,
  • hay meadow,
  • bird watching area,
  • key part of McLean Hospital Farm with its wells, orchards, pastures and piggeries
  • a place for respite for immigrant workers and
  • site of the Victory Garden.

Participants will meet in the Rock Meadow lot off Mill Street with addition spaces across the street in the Lone Tree Hill parking lot. Bring water, closed shoes, and weather appropriate clothing.

First Coyotes, Then A Moose and Now Bears Could Be Visiting Belmont

Photo: Black bear

So you thought that all the hares, geese, turkeys and coyotes was more than enough wildlife for Belmont to absorb?

Well, now you can add the possibility of bears to the mix after Waltham city officials announced Tuesday via Twitter the sighting of a pair of black bears in North Waltham, which includes the 59-acre Beaver Brook North Reservation.

ALERT! 2 black bears have been reported in North recently.

If you see them, please report them immediately:

While there has been no indication that the two bears have toured the “Town of Homes,” the pair are likely just a hop, skip and jump from Belmont. The North Reservation is adjacent to Belmont’s Rock Meadow Conservation Area and the Kendell Garden neighborhood and is across upper Concord Avenue at the Belmont Country Club. The reservation is also connected to Lone Tree Hill and Habitat via the Western Greenway Trail system.

What’s surprising is that American black bears – the species most likely seen in Waltham – are not more frequent visitors to these parts. Bears are located throughout western and central Massachusetts including northern sections of Middlesex County. The state’s Division of Fisheries & Wildlife estimates up to 4,500 bears wandering the Commonwealth, mostly in dense forests. Around urban areas, bears are primarily nocturnal, mainly foraging by night. 

Most likely the pair is looking for food. American black bears are omnivorous living off plants, fruits such as apples and pears, nuts, insects, honey, fish, small mammals, and carrion. They are also attracted to pet food, compost piles, garbage, and birdfeeders. They are also known to come into neighborhoods and steal the pumpkins decorating front doors in the autumn.

So what do you do when you come across a bear? Speaking from experience, a bear is likely to be more scared of you than you of him. According to the Division of Fisheries & Wildlife:

“Remain calm, talk to the bear in a calm voice (say ‘Hey bear, hey bear”) and slowly back away and leave the area.

If a bear approaches or follows you, make yourself look bigger by putting your arms above your head. Continue to repeat “Hey bear” in a calm voice and back away and leave the area while monitoring the bear.  

If it continues to follow you, stand your ground, make yourself look bigger, shout at the bear, threaten the bear with whatever is at hand (bang a stick on the ground, clap your hands), and prepare to use bear pepper spray if it is available. 

If the bear stops following you or turns around, back away and leave the area.

If the bear charges you, stand your ground, talk to the bear in a calm voice and use bear pepper spray when available. If the bear makes contact with you, fight back using anything you have (e.g., stick, binoculars, swinging a backpack, kicking, etc.)!”

After Review, PGA Rejects Rock Meadow for Golf Tournament Parking

Photo: Rock Meadow Conservation Land. 

A plan to use town conservation land off upper Concord Avenue to park nearly 1,000 vehicles during an upcoming professional golf tournament at Belmont Country Club in June has been abandoned, according to an email from the town’s conservation agent to a resident.

“At this point in time, the Conservation Commission will not be using Rock Meadow as a parking area for the Constellation golf tournament,” Mary Trudeau, Belmont’s conservation officer, wrote to Jeff Miller today, Tuesday, April 21.

Trudeau did not return a call from the Belmontonian for comment. 

According to Belmont Town Administrator David Kale, the PGA decided after reviewing the anticipated traffic coming to and from Belmont and the “complications of the site” on the number of vehicles onto the site, to relocate the majority of the parking to another area nearby. 

“The PGA is always looking at alternatives and they found one that suits their needs a little bit better,” said Kale.

It is unknown where the parking will be situated. 

The change comes a week after the Belmont Conservation Commission narrowly approved a conditional agreement to allow the Professional Golf Association Tour (PGA) to use approximately 11 acres of Rock Meadow Conservation Land for up to 1,000 parking spaces to support crowds attending the Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of the five “major” tournaments of the PGA’s Champions Tour for players over 50 years old.

The tournament will take place from Thursday, June 11 to Sunday, June 14 at the Belmont Country Club. 

During the debate whether to approve the conditional agreement – any fees to use the meadow would be placed in the ConCom’s Victory Garden reserve account to pay for the biannual mowing – Trudeau said the town forces her “to go begging” for grants and other funding to maintain the land as Belmont does not provide monies to the ConCom.

After news of the agreement was made public, several residents questioned the vote to place upwards of 1,000 cars in three locations on the meadow.

The PGA’s decision was welcomed news to those who felt the number of vehicles could lead to pollution and damage to nearby wetlands. 

“For both public policy and environmental reasons, I’m pleased that the decision appears to have been reversed.  Now I’d like to see the town add a budget item for meadow maintenance, and I also encourage all users to donate to the Friends of Rock Meadow,” Miller, a Precinct 1 Town Meeting member, told the Belmontonian. 

ConCom Approves Parking on Rock Meadow for Major Golf Tournament

Photo: The location on Rock Meadow where parking will be located for a golf tournament in June.

The Belmont Conservation Commission narrowly approved a conditional agreement to allow the Professional Golf Association Tour (PGA) to use approximately 11 acres of Rock Meadow Conservation Land off upper Concord Avenue for up to 1,000 parking spaces to support a major golf tournament taking place at Belmont Country Club during the second week of June.

The 3-2 vote came after an hour in which the commission members and Conservation Agent Mary Trudeau debated whether the land – never used for such an activity – would be damaged by vehicular pollution or whether a “yes” vote would set a bad precedence versus the commission’s real need for outside funding to continue the upkeep of the land and the nearby Victory Gardens.

“I am literally begging to find grants and money as the [Town Meeting] doesn’t give [the Conservation Commission] a penny,” said Trudeau, in an impassioned plea to the board to pass the proposal.

The approval came with the proviso that all fees for using the meadow will be placed in the Conservation Commission’s Victory Garden Revolving Account to provide money to mow the meadow.

With the Commission’s approval, the PGA and the town – through its Town Administration Office – will begin negotiations on a contract that will include both fees for parking and for other town services. In addition, the PGA has made considerable charitable contributions to municipalities and

The PGA is scheduled to meet with the Belmont Police Department on Thursday, April 16, to discuss required traffic control and details.

Rock Meadow is 70 acres of public conservation land that includes a meadow, wetlands, streams and woods. It is a part of the Western Greenway, a corridor of undeveloped green spaces that connects the towns of Belmont, Waltham and Lexington. It is a favorite place for hiking, birding, biking, picnicking, cross-country skiing, and community gardening.

The meeting began with a presentation from the PGA’s Joe Rotellini and Geoff Hill to give a highlights of the Constellation Senior Players Championship, one of the five “major” tournaments for older (those on the PGA’s Champions Tour for players over 50 years old) but still very popular golfers such as Bernhard Langer, Tom Watson, Fred Couples and Vijay Singh.

Rotellini, who oversees the day-to-day operation of the tournament, told the commissioners that people will come out to see the marque players and it’s critical to have parking in the area. He stated that the PGA was also in negotiations with other nearby communities for parking.

As part of its extensive management plan, the PGA will require parking from Tuesday, June 9 to Sunday, June 14 with the number of vehicles “ramps up” during the four days of the actual tournament, starting on Thursday, June 11, said Rotellini.

The temporary parking lot will begin to accept cars at approximately 7:30 a.m. with most vehicles departing by sunset. During the week, Winter Street from Concord Avenue to Route 2 will be one-way towards Lexington.


The parking plan will be laid out by a professional management firm hired by the PGA. Under the plan envisioned by the Tour, a pair of temporary curb cuts will be placed along Concord Avenue near the intersection of Winter Street (see image) that will allow a one-way circular loop where a shuttle bus will pick up attendees and deliver them to the country club. The cut will require moving large rocks that occupy the spaces.

“It is a temporary roadway that may require stones if it rains,” said Trudeau.

That portion of the North Meadow will be the location of the largest of three parking areas, used by 700 vehicle spaces from June 9 to 14. The activity will likely require moving a proposed sheep grazing site. (see image)


The second lot, expected to be used from June 12 to June 14, is what most residents recognize as Rock Meadow adjacent to the Mill Street entrance and the Victory Gardens. Up to 250 vehicles can use this location.

A final, and smallest, parking area will be located to the south of the first two sites, accompanying 150 spaces. Rotellini said if it does rain during the event, it’s unlikely to use the second and third areas as crowd numbers will be dampened.

In addition to setting up and roping off the parking areas, the PGA is insured up to $10 million, is set to acquire all permits, will bring in public restrooms and trash containers which will be cleaned at the end of each day, and have the necessary number of shuttle buses available to allow for 10 minutes between trips.

Rotellini said he and Trudeau have had discussions on repairing and restoring the meadow for any damage beyond the normal wear and tear expected from the activity that week. He said the property will be video recorded before the land is used to resolve any problems.

“We are the PGA tour. We do things the right way,” said Rotellini, saying the PGA hopes to create a working relationship with Belmont so when the tour hopefully returns – the Senior Players Championship will be in other locations in 2016 and 2017 – “we can rekindle those partnerships.”

Trudeau said she had discussed the proposal with Belmont Town Counsel George Hall, who judged that there didn’t appear to be a conflict using conservation land, granted to the town via state charter, for this activity.

Commissioner Margaret Velie asked if it wouldn’t be prudent to request a review with the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs “because it is conservation land.”

In addition, she expressed concern for restoring the land and the possible release of pollution by the vehicles while on the meadow for up to six days.

Following on Velie’s line, David Webster said Rock Meadow was created “for passive recreation uses,” and by approving the plan, “how do tell our neighbors they can’t use the meadow for another uses?”

“This will set a bad precedence. What’s next? Soccer fields? Dog parks?” he said.

But Commission Chair James Roth said he didn’t see any long-term problems from having the vehicles on the site as the “hard and firm” soil is similar to farmland “just that we’re growing grass.”

For Trudeau, the concerns of conservation and possibly opening the area for other activity were trumped by the desperate financial state the commission finds itself. She noted that Belmont is an outlier from surrounding communities as it does not fund the Conservation Commission – what she called “our zero budget” – to pay for the necessary upkeep of the land.

“We’re in a tight spot, and there is no willingness by Town Meeting to fund us,” said Trudeau.

The PGA’s Rotellini reiterated that through the Tour’s “charitable side” that gives to locales where events take place, a donation to fund two years of necessary mowing – approximately $2,000 – could be forthcoming.

“That’s what interests us,” he said.

When it appeared that the commissioners were evenly split 2-2 on the measure – with Miriam Weil joining Roth willing to vote to approve the plan – Commissioner Charles Chiang arrived and immediately voted “yes” to move the plan forward.

The plan now goes to the town where a contract is expected by April 28.