Manhattan park turns goats into summer interns to get rid of invasive plants

They're being put to work in weeding out invasive species like poison ivy.

Residents of Manhattan's Upper West Side have some new neighbors for the summer.

A group of 24 hungry goats have been brought in to roam in a portion of Riverside Park as part of an effort to clear an overgrown area.

The goats will spend their summer chomping away at poison ivy, porcelain berries, multi-floral rose and other invasive plants that can be tricky for human gardeners to handle.

"The only way to get rid of [such invasive plants] is to get in there with a weed whacker and that's hard on a slope, that's dangerous for the operators," said Larry Cihanek, the owner of Green Goats Rhinebeck, who brought in the goats.

"The alternative used to be herbicides, like Roundup, but every time you look at a news report, Round Up's getting sued by somebody because everybody's figured out its a poison so goats are the ecologically sound answer to the question, and it's cheaper than machinery, cheaper than people with weed whackers, and safer than Roundup," Cihanek said at the kick-off event Tuesday.

The goats -- who have whimsical names like Skittles, Bo, Cinnamon, Cheech and Chong -- are in a two-acre fenced-in area of the park starts at 120th Street and runs up to 123rd Street within the park. The 24 goats will be in the area for about a month, and then the area will be given a break from the goats so that natural plants can grow back before a smaller group of four to six of the goats will return, organizers said. The slated end date is currently listed for Aug. 30, 2019, though both the end date and the number of goats could vary based on need.

The initiative is being run through the Riverside Park Conservancy, and they're paying the $45,000 bill using donations.

Those who know the park best say that the goats are also helping out some of the other wildlife by chowing down at the natural buffet.

Chelsea Parise, a horticulturist for the Riverside Park Conservancy, said that some of the invasive plants don't "provide any food for local birds."

"So when there could be another shrub for instance with berries there that would help our native birds and migrating birds, it's better to have that than it is to have the multi-floral rose, and it's a pain for us to get rid of, and the goats like it for lunch, so its a win-win for us," Parise said.

The goats and the gardeners aren't the only ones who can have fun with the initiative, dubbed "Goatham" as a play on New York's famous nickname.

Farmyard fans and city converts can vote for the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) of the goats online at the conservancy's website.

For his part, Cihanek said that Sparkle is his favorite, followed by Chalupa, which is why they were given the collars with tags numbered 1 and 2, respectively. He said that he knows the goats, which are all rescues, are going to have fun with it too.

"If they could write the script of their job, this would be their job: go eat leaves all summer," he said of the goats.