Boston deploys goats against poison ivy in Hyde Park
The leader, Cole, ambled up to the metal fence, and with a wide stare and what looked like a grin, began to survey his new domain.
One by one, the others followed Cole through the gate: Chester, a fellow LaMancha goat with a paintbrush-like black tail; Dalia, an Alpine with perky white ears; and Christopher, another Alpine with a long gray beard that conjured up the image of a wise man.
It was not long before all of Boston’s newest contract employees had disappeared among the tall trees and brush in Hyde Park’s West Street urban wild. Their task: Help to clear 2 acres overrun with poison ivy, buckthorn, Asiatic bittersweet, Japanese knotweed, and other invasive species growing on Parks and Recreation Department property.
Best of all for the cloven-hoofed friends, these menaces are lip-smacking delicacies.
“It’s not only cute, but it makes really good sense,” said 27-year-old Jessica Muscaro, the project coordinator for the Hyde Park Green Team.
Department officials said it was the first time Boston has sought the help of goats for a city project. Officials say the hairy, four-legged weed whackers represent a fast, clean, and efficient way to clear the area for green space without using herbicides or loud and polluting machinery.
The four goats will live in the urban wild for eight weeks, protected by a solar-powered electric fence. People are encouraged to look, but not touch, as the poison ivy oils may stick to the goats’ coats, even though it does not harm their digestive tracts.
Teenagers from the Hyde Park Green Team will provide water and food to supplement the goats’ diet , then begin pruning trees and building trails once the area cleared.
“Goats are an ecofriendly way to regulate overgrowth and manage pests and weeds, while giving nutrients back to the earth,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement.
Tony Barrows, who has lived in Hyde Park for 27 years, remembered taking his young daughter to the site, alongside the Neponset River, in the 1990s. That was before the trees had been choked by the Asiatic bittersweet and the trails covered by other invasive plants.
“I’d like to see some development along the river bank where people can jog, or just sit down, read a book,” he said.
The $2,800 to rent the goats is being covered by grants provided to the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation. James Cormier, owner of the Goatscaping Co. in Plympton, is providing the animals, which range from 120 to 170 pounds.
“It would be way more time-consuming for the city to come in and start chop, chop, chopping away,” he said.
The community development corporation’s assistant director, Pat Alvarez, said she came up with the idea to use goats after hearing about other cities using animals to make way for urban greenspace. Goats, sheep, llamas, and wild burros have cleared brush at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. In Washington, D.C., goats helped clear the Congressional Cemetery in 2013.
Alvarez fondly remembered being chased around her yard by a “mean” billy goat as a child.
The four goats deployed in Boston were similarly mischievous Wednesday.
One began to chew on a Goatscaping sign dug into the dirt, prompting Cormier to yell, “Hey, don’t eat the sign!” Another, Dalia, attempted to climb a tree before giving up.
But they soon got down to business. Christopher's beard flapped against his chin as he chomped on a leafy bush. Dalia’s long ears wiggled as she chewed a dense shrub to the stem. Within an hour, small sections of foliage had been cleared.
“They’re quiet, unlike machinery,” Alvarez said. “We also think they’re going to be great ambassadors for the urban wild. Plus, they’re just fun.”