City Will Use Goats to Landscape Park Full of Poison Ivy

Four goats will spend eight weeks 'goatscaping' the invasive plants in Hyde Park.

For the first time in Boston’s history, neighborhood volunteers and employees from the Parks Department are officially putting down their landscaping tools and letting goats take care of the outdoor labor.

Starting Wednesday, four goats from a Plympton farm will begin the process of “goatscaping” acres of invasive plants and poison ivy that has overtaken a wooded area in Hyde Park.

“Goats eat everything,” said Ryan Woods, a spokesman for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. “You put them in an area, and literally there is nothing there when you come back. It’s completely gone.”

Woods said the idea to use goats came up during one of Mayor Marty Walsh’s recent neighborhood coffee meetings, when students from the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation’s Green Team pitched the concept so they could open up some of the space to use as a park.

“Walsh said it was something different, and he wants to try new things and doesn’t want to stick with the status quo,” said Woods. “Putting parks staff in there, we don’t have the numbers to get into the wilds, but the goats can get in there, help clean it up, rejuvenate the neighborhood, and people will be able to enjoy the park and not worry things like poison ivy.”

Mat Thall, interim executive director of the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, which is paying for the goat rental service, said the four goats will spend a total of eight weeks chowing down on the plants in a cordoned off section of the urban wilds along West Street. He said the animals will be housed behind an electrified fence to both keep them in, and keep wild animals out, as they graze through the overgrown patch of land and chew through the plants that are preventing people from accessing the space.

“The goats will get to work right away,” said Thall. “Then when that’s cleared, the fenced area is moved to the next area. By the end of two months, the whole West Street park area should be cleared of poison ivy and a lot of those plants, and be ready for our Green Team members to work in it.”

The goats are coming from the Goatscaping Company, a Plymouth-based organization that keeps its goats on a farm in Plympton, and then rents out the animals as an alternative to using heavy machinery and herbicides to combat invasives, poison ivy, woody brush, and overgrown areas. They will be cared for and fed other meal options, like hay, by the students that make up the Green Team.

The Goatscaping Company has been tapped for other larger projects all across the state, including eating up the poison ivy and bramble at a golf course in Cohasset as well as the Westborough State Hospital.

While coming across poison ivy may be a scary scenario for a person, for the goats, it’s a meal and then some. “Goats love anything in a New England forest. About the only thing they don’t eat are some of the ferns,” said Elaine Philbrick, cofounder of the Goatscaping Company. “They eat poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, so it allows people to access the parks. Right now [that area] is just completely a jungle. So the goats will hopefully create a beautiful innocuous green space for people to enjoy.”

Woods said there are no immediate plans to bring the goats in for other city projects, but if the pilot program headed by Thall and the Green Team proves successful, Walsh’s office certainly wouldn’t rule it out. “It’s very unique. It’s very unique, but exciting at the same time,” said Woods of the project. “It’s something out of the norm. We do success stories all the time with park cleanups when companies come in, but this is certainly something different.”