Brooklyn's Prospect Park Enlists Goats for Weed-Removal Duties

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Goat eats low leaves off of a fallen tree
Eight industrious seasonal workers were employed in the northeast section of Prospect Park.

On the Move / Shutterstock

Irene and Sandy. Sandy and Irene. The mention of these rather two innocuous names — not to be confused with your great aunt in Minneapolis or your dental hygienist — still packs a painful wallop at Brooklyn’s most celebrated green space, Prospect Park.

After all, it was Hurricane Irene (August 2011) and Superstorm Sandy (October 2012) that wreaked considerable havoc on Central Park's 585-acre outer-borough sibling. (Ten years Central Park’s junior at 150 years old, the two parks share designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.)

Damage To the Park

In total, the storms damaged or destroyed more than 500 trees with Prospect Park's lower-traffic northeast section sustaining the brunt of the arboreal beating. Sylvan, secluded and centered around a vegetation-choked reflecting pool and a rose-less rose garden (a “dilapidated nook that looks like it would be right at home at Grey Gardens,” as the New York Times describes it), the fancifully named Vale of Cashmere was hit particularly hard by Sandy and Irene with 50 mature trees lost.

At first, it seemed that the damage inflicted on the Vale of Cashmere by the two storms (plus a freak tornado or two) would never be truly remedied, leaving this lonely pocket between Prospect Park Zoo and Grand Army Plaza in an accelerated state of decay — mysterious, overgrown, littered with felled trees. Despite their naturalistic appeal in a completely man-made park, the northeast woodlands were doomed to remain a place that the millions of annual visitors to Brooklyn’s handsome flagship park would continue to pass by while en route to somewhere else.

Last year, however, the park’s nonprofit parent organization, the Prospect Park Alliance, announced plans to spruce up the northeast corner including a $727,000 campaign to rehab the Vale of Cashmere’s storm-impacted woodlands. The initiative is somewhat similar to the Central Park Conservancy’s efforts to draw visitors to that park’s less-trafficked woodland areas like the just-reopened Hallett Nature Sanctuary.

Map of the northern section of Prospect Park, Brooklyn
Bleat Street: The heavily wooded Vale of Cashmere is located in the far northeast section of Prospect Park, west of Long Meadow and just across Flatbush Avenue from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Google Maps

Much like the Vale of Cashmere, the Hallett Nature Sanctuary has been besieged with invasive plants. But whereas the Central Park Conservancy relied largely on human and mechanical labor to clear the Hallett Nature Sanctuary of downed trees and weeds, the Prospect Park Alliance has called in the big guns to help revive the Vale of Cashmere.

Goats To the Rescue

On loan from Green Goat Farm in the Hudson Valley, the team of eight ruminant landscapers will spend this summer happily devouring layers of poison ivy, English ivy, goutweed, and other impossible-to-annihilate invasive species that have thrived in the wake of Irene and Sandy. You see, an area ridden with downed trees presents the perfect opportunity for invasive plants to do what they do best: sneak in, proliferate and completely take over, making it near impossible for native plants to regain their dominance.

The woeful weeds have met their match in the goats, which are famously prodigious and not-all-that-picky eaters. Wait. Back up. A herd of goats munching on weeds in the Vale of Cashmere?

How very apropos.

Shame there’s not a section of the park named Oberhasli Dell that also needs attention. However, the industrious octet enlisted for the job isn’t of the luxurious wool-producing Cashmere variety — the goats are a mix of Angora and Nubian breeds with one cute-as-a-button Pygmy named Max.

Interestingly, most of the goats are more or less advanced in age — retired farm animals living out their golden years as professional landscapers. "This is their snowbird retirement summer in the city," Grace McCreight, a spokeswoman with the Prospect Park Alliance, tells Treehugger. "They seem pretty psyched to be here."

In addition to taking advantage of the goats’ seemingly bottomless four-chambered stomachs (they can eat up to 25 percent of their body weight in vegetation per day), there’s also a matter of terrain. They can more easily access uneven, hard-to-reach areas of the gated-in section of Prospect Park that they’ve been assigned.

“The area, a steep hillside, presents unique challenges and access issues for staff and machinery, but is easily accessible to goats, which provide a green and environmentally friendly approach to weed removal,” explains the alliance.

Prospect Park Alliance is footing the bill for the goats’ exceptional weed-clearing services — they command a $15,000 paycheck for the entire season — using the aforementioned $727,900 in funds, which were allocated to the Alliance through the National Park Service’s Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Assistance Grant Program for Historic Properties. In addition to goat-assisted woodland restoration, the grant money will be used for other woodland restoration projects in and around the northeast section of the park. McCreight describes the goat-scaping initiative as being part of the "first wave of restoration" at the Vale of Cashmere.

Once fall arrives and the goats have scarfed all the invasives that they can possible scarf and are ferried back upstate, restoration of the woodlands will continue with the planting of native trees and shrubs. Park officials believe that the goats' months-long munch fest followed by aggressive planting efforts will not only help beautify and lure new visitors to this previously ignored section of Prospect Park but also attract birds and other forms of wildlife. You can see them at work in the video at the top of this file.

"Woodland restoration has always been an important focus for the Alliance,” notes Prospect Park Alliance President Sue Donoghue in a news release. "These goats will provide an environmentally friendly approach to our larger efforts, and help us make the park more resilient to future storms."

Only a couple of short days into their stint, Prospect Park’s caprine seasonal workers have been greeted with no shortage of fanfare complete with a warm welcome from amateur comedian and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

Crowd Favorites

And despite being sequestered behind an 8-foot-tall security gate, the alternately napping and nomming animals are indeed visible to the public. "Kids absolutely love it," notes McCreight. "Goats are not only a great way to restore woodlands but also a great way to get the family out."

While there hasn't been much in the way of salacious water cooler gossip at Prospect Park Alliance HQ about the new hires thus far, McCreight does note that Diego, a Nubian, is loving all the attention. "She really seems to love being in front of the camera." As for Max, the pygmy, McCreight hints that her new colleague may have a wee bit of a Napoleon complex: "He doesn't seem to let his size bother him."

The Duchess County transplants will be subject to a slew of goat-themed special events hosted by the Prospect Park Alliance including a Fun on the Farm day (March 22) complete with goat’s milk ice cream and felt ball-making tutorials. The goats, which will remain in a protected area, won't be making too many public appearances over the coming weeks — they've got a lot of work to do. However, those desperately looking to bond with a friendly farm animal that isn't on the clock can do so next door at the Prospect Park Zoo's barnyard petting area.