Goats Run Wild in Riverside Park

Four-legged “interns” will gobble up invasive plants, campaign for votes from park-goers

| 15 Jul 2021 | 04:59

The Riverside Park Conservancy is getting extra help this summer from a new herd of “interns,” as Riverside Park Conservancy President and CEO Dan Garodnick has dubbed the group of goats that will temporarily inhabit a section of the park. To kick off their residency, children and adults alike gathered this week to sing for, cheer on and — with much excitement — pet the goats during a celebratory “Running of the Goats.”

“Manhattan just ‘goat’ a lot more interesting,” announced Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who was joined by other elected officials at the event hosted by the Conservancy on Wednesday.

From mid-July through the end of the summer, five goats from the larger “Running of the Goats” herd of 24 will make themselves at home on a roughly two-acre patch of land in Riverside Park between West 119th Street and West 123rd Street, their primary job being to fight back against invasive plant species — by eating them. It’s the second year that goats have been deployed to keep the park healthy after the initiative started in 2019, since COVID-19 threw a wrench in plans to welcome the goats back last year.

This year, park-goers can vote for the five goats — Skittles, Buckles, Chalupa, Mallemar and Ms. Bo Peep — in a ranked-choice system not unlike that recently used in citywide elections. In this case, results are guaranteed “without any confusion or controversy” come summer’s end, according to a statement from Garodnick.

“It’s very important,” Garodnick told The Spirit with a smile. “You know, leadership matters.”

“Natural Weed Whackers”

After the first “Running of the Goats,” in 2019, over 20 goats remained on site to eat their way through unwanted vegetation in an area of Riverside Park that has otherwise proven tricky to maintain. “They are natural weed whackers,” Garodnick told The Spirit, “and putting them to work in Riverside Park was like treating them to an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

The original goats — some included in the present cohort — hail from Green Goats farm in Rhinebeck, New York and most had “past careers” as dairy goats, according to Garodnick. The original herd was so efficient, he explained, that some of the goats had to be sent back to Rhinebeck to better pace their efforts in the park.

After a hiatus during the pandemic, this year’s goats are tackling the same plot of land as before, since it takes multiple years to fully eradicate invasive plant species like multiflora rose, porcelain berry and mugwort that consume the area, Garodnick explained. Poison ivy (another plant that the goats will eat), paired with the steeply-sloped terrain, would make it difficult for human crews to rehabilitate the land.

“I can’t think of a more enthusiastic, cost-effective and eco-friendly solution to controlling and suppressing the growth of these detrimental plant species,” Congressman Jerrold Nadler said at the event, “than employing goats.”

If not for the goats, invasive plant species would continue to inhibit healthy tree growth, according to Garodnick. He explained that trees in the area not only help to keep the city cool, but also absorb stormwater, which recently caused flooding in some city subway stops. “The success of our natural areas,” Garodnick said, “is linked to the health of the city.”

The Conservancy eventually intends to plant a “diversity of species” in the absence of the invasive plants that currently dominate.

Campaigning For Your Heart

Aside from their environmental work — which includes drawing attention to the Conservancy’s Woodland Restoration Initiative — the goats will also serve to bring the surrounding community together. During the “Running of the Goats” event, onlookers joined the SoHarmoniums, a women’s choir led on Wednesday by Elizabeth Núñez, in a rendition of The Sound of Music’s “The Lonely Goatherd” and kids reached out to pet one of the many goats.

Even remarks from elected officials offered an opportunity for collective laughter (or, in the case of especially bad puns, loud booing).

“They’re quite spoiled,” Council Member Mark Levine said of the goats. “I’m not surprised, because here at the Conservancy, when it comes to animals, they are a bunch of bleating hearts.”

On a slightly more serious note, Garodnick and Levine both made reference to the high likelihood that Levine will soon become Manhattan’s next Borough President.

The goats themselves are up for election through the end of their residency; via the Conservancy’s website, people can peruse each goat’s platform and place votes for their favorites.

“But only one of them,” Garodnick announced during the event, “can be crowned Riverside Park’s G.O.A.T: the Greatest of All Time.”

“They are natural weed whackers, and putting them to work in Riverside Park was like treating them to an all-you-can-eat buffet.” Riverside Park Conservancy President and CEO Dan Garodnick