Invasive species, meet your match: Goats clean trails and charm residents in Clive

A Greenbelt Goat says hi. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

Dealing with invasive species is an issue that Iowa parks and recreation departments are all too familiar with, but the City of Clive is engaging in a clever approach to rid the Greenbelt Trail of pesky plants: goats.

The Greenbelt Goats were introduced to the city in late 2019 to help minimize garlic mustard and bush honeysuckle populations along the trail.

“It was an experiment to see if goats could be a feasible way to maintain the Greenbelt by keeping invasive species out,” said Richard Brown, the leisure services director for the City of Clive. “There’s been a lot of anecdotal [evidence] and a lot more people using goats to do those types of activities. So the city started a pilot project to see if it would be feasible.”

The goats are part of an ongoing Greenbelt Trail preservation project that started in the late 1970s.

“For a long time, the thought process on how to manage a greenbelt like that was just to let it be and not really do anything,” Brown said. “And in the last 15 years, we’ve found that you can’t just let it go. Because things like honeysuckle will end up taking it over. So the goats became one of the key tools in the toolbox to help us manage it.”

Greenbelt Goats at work on the trail on Oct. 3, 2021. Makeshift fences are used to keep goats in the area that needs grazing and prevent grand escapes, but the animals are friendly and are occasionally set loose to interact with parkgoers. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

According to research done by Purdue on goat grazing effects in eastern hardwood forests, goat grazing resulted in incremental annual decreases of invasive species. The process is a slow, but seemingly effective one. The study indicates that after five years of grazing, researchers “followed up with a targeted herbicide spray to kill what remained of the invasive plants.” 

While the Greenbelt Goat program is still too new to know what the long-term impact will be on the Greenbelt Trail, the city has made observations that seem to line up with Purdue’s findings.

“We see an almost immediate rebound of some native plants and shrubs out there,” Brown said. “But we also see that the honeysuckle does start to regrow pretty quickly. So we’re trying to figure out the right balance.” 

The herd at work on Greenbelt Trail — City of Clive photo

So far, Brown said that utilizing the goats has allowed the city to cut back on the amount of chemicals used to mitigate the spread of invasive species.

“We’re never going to get to the point where we don’t have to use chemicals at all. But they make a big difference.”

Landscaping aside, the goats have become beloved members of the Clive community. Brown calls them “Clive’s most popular employees,” and said it takes a village to care for them.

“We do have a volunteer program where people can help out with things such as counting them,” he said. “Sometimes we have silver cord hours. You know, kids need volunteer hours for school, they’ll come in for clean-up. And they do it. People just love hanging out with the goats.”

Richard Brown holding a baby Greenbelt goat. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village
Mama and baby goats chill at the Campbell Park “goatel.” Lily DeTaeye/Little Village
Baby goats warm under a heat lamp. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

One of the most popular goats is Steve, a big white goat who got press last year for escaping and going missing for four and a half days. Clive residents came together to alert the city when Steve was spotted around town and he was ultimately returned to his herd. 

When the goats aren’t out on the Greenbelt Trail grazing during the spring and summer (or running around the city, in Steve’s case), they are in their pen at City Hall or at the “goatel” located in Campbell Park. This is where goat mamas-to-be go to have their babies in the winter. Brown said they’re aspiring to have a 20-25 goat herd, and with the 2022 babies, they will be very close. 

The babies and their mamas will move to the City Hall pen in the beginning of April. Brown said the public is always excited about the kids’ first debut.

“They’re just very entertaining.”

A baby Greenbelt goat eats hay at the “goatel.” — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

Visit the City of Clive’s website for more information on tracking the goats on the trail, purchasing Greenbelt Goat merchandise and volunteering. You can also keep up with the goats by following their Twitter account.

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