A small crowd of people eagerly watched twelve goats squeeze through a trailer door into the brush of the Crim Dell Sunday, April 15. The group, consisting of police officers, college students, a geology professor and the owners of Goatworx, a nearby family farm, then dispersed to either electrify the surrounding white netting or pitch a tent nearby. As odd as the scene may have been, it was the site of a coordinated effort to promote sustainability and nature on campus, and the culmination of years of work by a little-known campus group – the Crim Dell Restoration Committee.
These goats provided a welcome relief to a problem plaguing the Crim Dell – invasive plant species. When a non-native species is introduced to an area where it has no checks on growth, it can quickly overtake and choke off the native plants. According to geology professor and sponsor for the committee Linda Morse, the Crim Dell suffered for years from this problem, notably from bamboo and English ivy. These plants not only destroy the natural area, but also negatively affect the campus aesthetic.
“English ivy is horrible for our Public Ivy,” Morse said.
According to committee member Maura Finn ’20, goats naturally strip away invasive species up to five feet tall, leaving the larger plants and trees untouched.
Because of their voracious efficiency, the goats could clear the brush within the week they were on campus.
“They will eat all day with only a [brief] break,” Megan Stewart, a daughter of the owners of Goatworx said.
The goats even stayed overnight. Although there was an electric netting to provide safety and containment for the goats, concerned students in the committee took temporary guardianship a step further. For the entire week, the students camped out in rotating two-hour shifts.
After the goats cleared out the greenery, the students can pull up the roots to prevent future growth and lay down mats that reduce erosion.
Pesticides and heavy machinery could also eliminate the problem, but at much higher cost to environmental health. Goats avoid all the problems of toxins and other environmental disruptions; according to Finn, their waste is biodegradable and acts as a natural fertilizer. Therefore, the goats even promote the natural growth of native species which is the ultimate goal of Crim Dell Restoration, as they focus on the ecosystem services provided by native plants and animals, such as birds.
Murphy hopes that being near a healthy, green native area will bring people closer to the environment and make them more inclined to protect it.
What initially prompted the students to seek this goal? It started with a snowstorm. Morse was working in her office facing the Crim Dell when she happened to glance out the window. A recent ice storm had blanketed the area, bending back the throngs of bamboo choking the woods. She realized that she could see the Crim Dell bridge. Then she began to consider how exactly she could translate that into reality.
In October 2014, when the College was looking for on-campus student projects, Morse brought up the idea of removing invasive species from the Crim Dell, and the Bird Club volunteered to help. In March 2015, Student Environmental Action Coalition took over the project and secured a Green Fee — funding provided by the Office of Sustainability — to buy tools to get rid of bamboo.
“The Crim Dell was infinitely better once we destroyed the enemy,” Murphy said.
After countless work days during which students ripped out the offending plant, the Crim Dell demonstrated ecological improvements.
“The project has since expanded to include a rock garden … and erosion control mats on the steepest slope,” Jesse Smyth ’18, a student that helped turned the project into a Student Environmental Action Coalition campaign, said.
In 2016, the group received an additional $11,000. A year later, a committee member was on a rock-climbing trip when she noticed a group of goats hired to clear away kudzu, another invasive plant, from the area. She eagerly shared the possibility of doing something similar on campus. The students agreed, and re-appropriated some of the 2016 money to hire Goatworx farm, the owners of which had also stumbled upon the idea of goat-mediated plant-removal. Rick Stewart, company owner, noticed how his farm’s goats loved to eat up his poison ivy and kudzu. He took them to friends’ homes to clear away their greenery, and the friendly favors later evolved into the business that arrived on campus during Earth week.
Stewart’s goats may have been on campus for a week, but the effort in restoring the Crim Dell was years in the making. It was the collective vision of environmentally-conscious farmers, concerned students, bird enthusiasts and dedicated professors.
“I always believed you should leave something better than you found it,” Stewart said. “And this is how I do that.”