Chewing their way through Riverside Park

Skittles. Photo courtesy of Riverside Park Conservancy
As the visiting goats exceed expectations, residents can vote on which ones should stay through the summer

By Jason Cohen

It’s been a little more than a month since the goats arrived in Riverside Park. But boy, have they been hungry.

Dan Garodnick, the president and chief executive officer of the Riverside Park Conservancy, said the goats have done what was expected and more.

On May 21, the Riverside Park Conservancy welcomed a herd of 24 goats from Rhinebeck, who are assisting to remove invasive species from a two-acre area of Riverside Park’s woodland. This is part of the conservancy’s ongoing woodland restoration — a chemical-free method of controlling the growth of detrimental species and supporting the ecological health of the park. The goats are from Green Goats in Rhinebeck.

“The goat project has been a tremendous success,” Garodnick told the West Side Spirit. “We are so encouraged by the progress that they’ve made in clearing invasive plants. You can now stand at the top and see all the way down the site to the tennis courts. Something you could not have done three weeks ago.”

Garodnick stressed that the goats have not only impacted the park environmentally, but have also created quite a stir in the community. More than 1,000 people came to the park when they arrived, including children and elected officials. Since then, numerous people have visited the goats, ranging from kids to adults.

According to Garodnick, the plan is to have the goats in the park for a month and then four to six of them will stay for the remainder of the summer. He noted that the goats will be fenced in and people are welcome to look at, but not touch them.

He explained with the end of June around the corner, residents will decide which goats stay and go home by voting on the conservancy’s website. “New Yorkers have really taken to them,” he said. “It has exceeded expectations because not only have the goats done an incredible job, but we have used it as a tool to educate people about the work of the Conservancy and a nontoxic way to control invasive plants.”

Garodnick said the goats will benefit the park and be a really cool thing for people to see. He explained that while this will be the first time goats will be in a Manhattan park, it has been done before in New York.

“Goats being invited to help with horticultural care is not novel,” Garodnick said.

About a year ago the conservancy’s horticultural team was figuring out the best way to attack the woodland area and it was concluded that goats were the best option. Garodnick noted that goats can consume 25 percent of their body weight in vegetation in a day and their fecal matter provides nutrients for the soil.

Garodnick explained that the woodland area, which spans from 119th Street to 123rd Street (nicknamed “GOaTHAM” by the Conservancy), is filled with mugwort, poison ivy and many other hazardous specimens.

“Our gardeners can’t access the area in the way we want to because it has steep slopes and the invasives themselves like poison ivy are not friendly to humans,” Garodnick said. “Putting the goats to work in GOaTHAM is like taking them to an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s good for us and it’s good for the goats.”

Once the goats make the land usable, Garodnick said the goal is to put more canopy trees there and replace the invasive specimens with more native ones.

Garodnick told the West Side Spirit that this is also an educational opportunity. The conservancy will provide free public programming about the goats and it has formed a partnership with the engineering and earth science department at Columbia University, where they will use sensors to study the nutrients and health of the soil while the goats are in the park.

“The public education is an important part of all of this,” he stressed. “We want to educate kids and park users about forest management and about how goats are chemical-free and a sustainable way of killing weeds. It’s the ultimate farm to table and we want to celebrate this moment.”