Hikers making their way through a wooded region of conservation land, where Waltham feeds into Belmont, might not have batted an eye at the set of six signs posted at a footbridge over Beaver Brook.
Some of the messages, which outlined the rules at the public recreation area ahead, were nothing out of the ordinary.
“No Off Leash Dogs,” read one, “Per Belmont Bylaws 60-200. Up to $500 fine.”
Another urged visitors to “Stay on the Trails,” because of a “Nesting Bird Habitat” nearby.
But on closer inspection, more attentive visitors noticed a pair of strange, tongue-in-cheek placards sandwiched between the more official-sounding ones.
“No Eye Contact,” one of them said. “Per Belmont Tradition. $10,000 fine.”
Well, that seems steep.
Another warned there’s “No Running With Sticks” allowed. “Do it in Waltham — they don’t care if you put your eye out. Per Belmont Bylaw... (forgot which #).”
Besides a slightly cleaner and brighter finish, as if they’d been installed recently, the font and color of the signs were nearly identical to the others typically found at the high foot-traffic bridge.
But unless Belmont officials suddenly decided to get more adventurous with the language in their public service announcements — or voted to roll out extremely punitive new fines without anyone noticing — something was clearly off.
“I was kind of just shocked,” said Venya Knyazev, a 27-year-old Belmont resident who frequently walks his dog, Sherlock, along trails in the area. He said he chuckled when he first saw an image of the signs about a week ago in a Reddit thread, where one commenter said it “may be the most New England thing I’ve ever seen.”
The person who posted the photo seemed perplexed: “$10,000 fine for eye contact?,” they wrote, “Is this real?”
On Tuesday, Knyazev went to see them for himself, and then shared his own photo of the signage to the website.
It was clear to Knyazev that the messages, located between the Rock Meadow Conservation Area and Beaver Brook North Reservation, were likely some kind of pop-up public art project. Or, Knyazev speculated, a parody of some unspoken tension between two communities about the use of the woods, which straddle Waltham and Belmont.
While certain policies seem to be more strictly enforced in the smaller, southeastern section in Belmont’s territory, the Waltham side has always felt “a bit more loosey-goosey with the rules,” he said.
Knyazev said he first noticed the official signs pop up on the bridge into Belmont in 2020, at a time when more hikers were hitting the trails to escape the house amid the pandemic. One of them even seemed to direct a bit of sass toward guests with dogs: “Pick Up Dog Poop,” it says, adding, “Even if no one is watching.”
It always felt like Belmont was sending a sharp message to non-residents coming from the west, he said.
“I think [the fake signs were] poking fun at something that’s probably somewhat realistic, which is the fact that Belmont might be a little overly-restrictive with some of its rules, and also the way some people in Belmont feel about out-of-towners,” he said.
Ultimately, the bizarre new signage — whatever its purpose — was a short-lived project. As of Wednesday, it had disappeared.
“Those signs were not Belmont sanctioned signs and they have been removed,” an employee from the town administrator’s office said in an e-mail.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for putting them there. When he returned to the spot Wednesday, Knyazev, who says he had nothing to do with the mysterious signs, noticed hikers taking note of their sudden absence. A few who passed by the footbridge late in the afternoon stopped to take photos of the spot where the signs used to hang.
“Seems like I am definitely not the only one missing them,” he said.