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The goats of Godfrey Park

Contractor rents goats to clear brush for project

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - Three of the 63 goats from Yoder Goat Rentals who are at Godfrey Park as part of a brush-clearing project enjoy a snack of grass. James W. Fowler Co., the general contractor on the project, brought in the goats to clear out a ravine in preparation for the installation of a new drainpipe.A contractor working on a stormwater outfall project in Godfrey Park has turned to some unusual workers for a tricky task.

Sixty-three goats have become temporary residents of the St. Helens park. The contractor hired by the city of St. Helens to install a new storm drainpipe, James W. Fowler Co. of Dallas, hired the goats from Molalla-based Yoder Goat Rentals to clear brush in preparation for the drain to be put in.

“We had to do clearing of all the brush in the canyon,” said Scott Thibert, vice president at James W. Fowler Co. “And so we elected to go with environmentally friendly ways of clearing.”

Rachel McCollum, who runs Yoder Goat Rentals with her husband Bill, said goats have three major advantages in projects like the one in Godfrey Park.

“First of all, you don’t have to use chemicals, so it’s a very green way to go, good for their environment. They’ll not only clear the vegetation for you, but they’ll fertilize at the same time,” she said. “Creeksides are a popular place to clear, because you can’t spray within a certain distance of a creek.”

Goats will strip the leaves and new growth from even thorny, intimidating invasive plants like Himalayan blackberry, McCollum said.

“Blackberries are very formidable, because they grow thick and tall, but once you get all of the leaves off them, you see they’re just a few canes coming out of the ground,” she said.

By the time the goats are finished eating, McCollum said, “It looks almost like a warzone when they’re done, because there’s nothing green left.”

With blackberries and other brush defoliated, she added, it is relatively easy to remove unwanted plants, while allowing other plants to grow back.

Goats are also capable of negotiating difficult terrain, McCollum and Thibert noted, where heavy machinery is not.

“The terrain down there is very difficult to maneuver ... so that’s one of the advantages of goats,” said Thibert of the ravine in Godfrey Park where the goats are currently at work. “The goats are nimble. They can get around on that tough terrain.”

And the goats also have another appeal, according to McCollum. She said she tells prospective customers, “When you think about the cost of bringing in goats, don’t forget about the entertainment value.”

McCollum said neighbors often congregate and watch the goats at work on particular projects, which she said range from corporate and government work that can involve more than 80 goats, to smaller work on private property for which only four goats or so are needed.

Crystal Farnsworth, a spokeswoman for the city of St. Helens, said the goats are in Godfrey Park under a special use permit. Goats cannot be pets in St. Helens, she said, and the permit requires that they be a temporary presence in the park. They have until Thursday, May 14, to complete their work.

“They’re pretty quick,” Thibert said. “It’s going to take them about two weeks.”

An electric fence has been set up to keep the goats contained — a requirement of the permit — and the contractor is expected to put in native plants to replace the invasive species, like English ivy and Himalayan blackberry, that are being taken out to make way for the drainpipe, Farnsworth said.

The native plants will provide “natural filtering” for the stormwater, which will be collected and carried out to the Columbia River, she added.

The total cost of the contract is about $1.99 million. Work is expected to wrap up before the end of the year.