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Goats return to Manhattan to help weed Riverside Park


Manhattan is about as urban as a place gets. But each year around this time, one of the city's biggest parks starts to look a little bit like farmland. Jim Zarroli reports on the coming of the goats to Riverside Park.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: New York City is pretty flat, except where it's not. Up around West 120th Street, Riverside Park slopes sharply down to the Hudson River. It's too steep to weed. Invasive plants, like multiflora roses and porcelain berry, can take over. So a few summers ago, the park turned to an ancient method of garden maintenance.


ZARROLI: A small herd of goats is brought from upstate in a large trailer and released into the thick, impenetrable brush. Other cities have done this before, but here it's relatively new. It turns out that goats are great weeders. They navigate the steep hillside with ease.


ZARROLI: They'll be here all summer eating and eating and eating some more. John Herrold directs the Riverside Park Conservancy.

JOHN HERROLD: If you come back in about six weeks, you'll be able to see right down this slope. It's amazing how much they consume.

ZARROLI: For people in this part of Manhattan, the goats' arrival each summer has become a much-anticipated and beloved ritual, like the marathon or the St. Patrick's Day parade. Politicians show up and give speeches. And when the goats were brought in recently, a crowd was waiting, phones in hand to take pictures. Delaney Wellington works nearby at Barnard College.

DELANEY WELLINGTON: My boss let us all, like, get out of work. She's like, just go see the goats, and, yeah, come back when you're ready (laughter).

ZARROLI: As the goats disappeared into the grass, dogs strained against leashes, sniffing in their direction. Six-year-old Mila Pena poked a long piece of grass through the fence, trying in vain to get the goats' attention.

MILA PENA: And they go, baa, so I was trying to distract them to come to me. But they don't go. They just want to eat, and they say, like, don't bother me. I'm just eating. Let me eat in peace.

ZARROLI: Mila's father, Freddie, brought her here, wanting to teach her about animals. Before today, the only goats she remembers seeing were on YouTube. For New Yorkers who don't tend to interact with a lot of farm animals, there's something almost dazzling about the goats. People's faces grow soft looking at them. Tova Getoff can even tell you their names.

TOVA GETOFF: Skittles, Mister G., Eleanor and Cheech.

ZARROLI: One of the goats is tawny-colored and has huge horns that curl in on themselves. Not pretty, perhaps, but Magda Bogin, a writer, sees a kind of majesty in the way he stands there, poised on a steep patch of hillside.

MAGDA BOGIN: Look at that goat. Look at that face. Look at that beautiful, beautiful, composed, elegant gaze on that goat.

ZARROLI: Bogin lives nearby and comes here every day to commune with this little bit of nature. It's not clear what the goats think. Ann Cihanek is with the nonprofit rescue service that brought the goats here. Don't worry, she says...

ANN CIHANEK: I think they love it here because if you close your eyes and you're within this fenced area, you're in a beautiful farm.

ZARROLI: Except you're in New York City.

CIHANEK: Except you're in New York City.

ZARROLI: Cihanek says goats are sociable; they like people. But what these animals mainly appear to be is chill. And as the crowd drifts away, they stay on, heads down, oblivious to the runners and the sirens and the planes overhead, munching their way down the hillside. For NPR News, this is Jim Zarroli in New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.