Frick Park welcomed a team of unique helpers Thursday to devour invasive plants.
The team consists of 11 goats and a donkey named Hobo, provided by Allegheny GoatScape. This is the third consecutive year the goats have deployed to Frick Park to rid the area of non-native invasive plantlife.
When the goats arrived in the morning, they were greeted by several park workers, volunteers and families. They were eager to watch them walk up a path behind the Frick Environmental Center to their fenced-off area at Clayton Hill. Once in their enclosure, the goats quickly set to work nibbling plants.
Philip Gruszka, director of horticulture and forestry for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, said the area was once overrun with bush honeysuckle, an invasive plant that was growing up to 12 or 15 feet tall.
“It’s hard to imagine, but four years ago, you could not walk through here,” Gruszka said.
Now the plants are much more manageable and there’s a small path through the area.
This year, the goats are tasked with eating the remaining invasive plants, like stiltgrass and mile-a-minute, said Gavin Deming, founder and executive director of Allegheny GoatScape.
The goats will eat their way through this patch, which is about three-quarters of an acre, before moving to new locations throughout the park later this fall, Gruszka said. He said they’ll likely return to the park again next year.
“Using goats is a great management tool for us,” Gruszka said. “The goats are a phenomenal option for us.”
Once the goats finish at this site, Gruszka said park officials plan to bring in native trees that had previously been outcompeted by invasive plants.
“What’s going to happen afterwards is the park staff is going to come in and plant trees that are supposed to be here,” Deming said, noting that this should also help improve bird habitats.
Hillary Steffes, an expert with Allegheny GoatScape, said she hopes that having the animals visible at Frick Park will help people understand the benefits of utilizing goats to help with environmental projects like this one.
“It’s not just a gimmick,” Steffes said. “People get really excited about the cuteness of it, but it’s also functional.”
Goats are a practical tool for these types of jobs, she said. They’re environmentally-friendly and they never tire of eating plants. Plus, since their stomachs ferment seeds, they don’t spread invasive plants.
“They eat quickly and they eat a lot,” Steffes said.
Though people can’t pet the goats or donkey, Deming said people are welcome to watch from outside of the enclosure. There are signs around the area explaining why the goats are there.
“I wanted to do this because of the environmental impact, but it’s so incredible to see people getting excited,” he said.
Patty Himes, a naturalist educator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, was among those eager to visit with the goats when they arrived. She took photos with the friendly animals, which she remembers from past visits.
“What’s really fun is many of these goats have been here before,” she said. “They’re just really interesting animals. They’re bringing some energy.”
Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, email@example.com or via Twitter .