How goats and the volunteers who love them are saving a popular park

They're keeping invasive plants from taking over Pittsburgh's Frick Park by doing what comes naturally. For the goats at least!

This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

Goats. The only exposure most of us have likely had with these animals is in a petting zoo. Who knew they could also have full time jobs and be contributing community members?

Group of goats

Photo credit Get Marty

The goats owned by the non-profit Allegheny Goatscape work for their meals, clearing invasive plants by grazing in places people and machines can't easily go, like steep hillsides that are a familiar part of the Western Pennsylvania landscape. They're also in demand in places like parks where chemical weed killers aren't welcome.

Call them nature's weed whackers. A large goat can down 8 pounds of greens a day; a herd of ten goats can clear an acre in two or three weeks. And it's not just the goats making a difference. Volunteers help move the herds from job to job, and check on the animals every day to make sure they're safe and have enough water.

Goats on hillside

Photo credit Get Marty

We got to see them in action when volunteers moved Team Hobo (named for the mini-donkey who's in charge of one of the herds) into a new location at Frick Park, just behind the Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood:

Using goats for landscape control is growing in popularity, especially in California, where they "eat" perimeters to create wildfire breaks around everything from housing developments to businesses and schools.

Allegheny Goatscape's Gavin Deming predicts there will be more demand for goats landscape work in our region as people see the benefits. "When I first saw the goats working I was smitten with the idea. It was amazing to see them work so efficiently," he said. The project at Frick Park is being sponsored by the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, and supported by the Audubon Society, whose leaders hope the elimination of invasive plants will allow native plants to regrow and provide a better habitat for native birds and animals.

Close up of goat face

Photo credit Get Marty

If you'd like to see the goats at work, click here for a link to a calendar that shows where all three Goatscape herds will be through mid-November.

The Get Marty Bridges project is produced with generous support of UPMC. Life changing medicine.