"Do not throw cigarette butts on the ground. Our squirrels are getting cancer," reads one sign on the north end of the Catalina Verdugo Trail in Glendale.
Yes, it's a real sign installed by the city.
Smoking is banned on city trails and parks, but traditional outreach hasn't prevented cigarette butts from piling up and there aren't enough code enforcement officials to patrol every trail. Tired of having stodgy signs ignored, city officials are giving humor a try.
"The signs are meant to be funny and meant to attract attention," said Marc Stirdivant, a senior administrative analyst, who along with Emil Tatevosian, a parks project management administrator, came up with the language.
After months of coordinating between the Community Services & Parks and Public Works departments, the signs were erected in April. The squirrel sign and 17 others like it are now scattered throughout the Verdugo and San Rafael mountains, as well as at the Glendale Sports Complex and Deukmejian Wilderness Park.
Although no one is officially tracking their impact, a few Trail Safety Patrol volunteers have noticed a difference, Stirdivant said.
Former Councilman Rafi Manoukian got the ball rolling on the signs after complaining about seeing cigarette butts while mountain biking on hillsides.
"It's not a good sight to see when you're up there in the fresh air in the mountains," Manoukian said, adding that smoking also carries the very real risk of sparking a wildfire.
"Sometimes people go up and they just don't think about it," he said, referring to the fire potential. "The signs kind of remind people you're out in the wilderness."
Tatevosian and Stirdivant cooked up the slogans when they were flying back from Sacramento late last year after accepting an award for the Glendale Narrows Riverwalk, a multi-use trail along the Los Angeles River.
Some of their ideas — "Our deer don't smoke in your back yard. Please don't smoke in theirs" — made the cut. Others, such as "Smoking provokes aggressive behavior in mountain lions," did not out of fear that the joke might fall flat.
However, Glendale's affinity for bears — recall the media darling "Meatball" — paved the way for the "Smokers will be fed to the bears" sign at Deukmejian Wilderness Park.