Goats return to Bear Creek Park

       In what has become an annual occurrence, a large herd of goats started making itself at home Nov. 6 in Bear Creek Park, around the organic garden east of 21st Street, and is scheduled to be there for about two weeks.

Lani Malmberg pets Banjo, a dog trained to herd goats, a short time after arriving with the goats behind her (600 in all) at Bear Creek Park Nov. 4. She noted that she is standing amid the invasive kochia weed.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Although the scene typically is an attraction for children and photographers, Lani Malmberg's throng of animals from Landers, Wyoming, has a functional purpose, which is to provide organic soil improvement.
       They do this by eating all the vegetation in front of them, and through a fortuitous accident of their metabolism, this discourages toxic and invasive weeds and encourages natural grasses. “I call them eco-heroes,” commented Malmberg.
       “We're really pleased to have them,” said Karen Flitton-Stith, a member of the Bear Creek Garden Association (BCGA), which first brought in the weed-eating-goats tradition 15 years ago. “We are still fundraising very actively to be able to pay for a good, thorough grazing that will take care of the kochia (“fireweed”) that has grown up so vigorously around the garden this year. The early summer drought stressed the grasses and then the August monsoon triggered the noxious weeds in abundance.”
       Char Nymann, who has been president of the BCGA since its formation in 1986, estimated this week that she has made “30,000 phone calls” seeking donations.
       The association leases its 2½-acre garden space from El Paso County Parks. Under an agreement with El Paso County, the BCGA is responsible for the weeds in the garden as well as a 20-acre buffer around it. State law requires the reduction of state-identified “noxious weeds” on public lands.
       In a related annual event, a separate Malmberg herd numbering about 400 goats was scheduled to arrive Nov. 7 and start eating the excess vegetation on private open land around the houses bordering the Mesa Wildlife Preserve west of Mesa Road near King and 19th streets. That funding is being provided by organizer Rich Serby and 20 fellow homeowners in that area. The goal there is not so much weed control but fire mitigation, he explained.
       The BCGA started using goats in the late 1990s. Even though studies have shown that the method is considerably more expensive than chemical weed control, the gardeners like the organic aspect and believe it is better for the soil in the long term.
       According to Westside Pioneer research, the Garden Association has managed to find funding (through county assistance, grants and/or donations) for the goats most of the years since 1999 - missing only 2005, 2006 and 2008.
       Malmberg noted that she tries to help out by not insisting on her regular rates when she trucks her animals down here. “This is not a money-making deal,” she commented.

Westside Pioneer article