Prior to 1899, when the Kansas City Parks Department first began acquiring land to build Cliff Drive as a scenic roadway, the terrain was viewed by many to be “too rugged for a goat to climb.” Now, the hillsides of Kessler Park’s Cliff Drive will be home to a small team of goats whose task will be to help eradicate the invasive honeysuckle that’s overtaken the view of the Iola limestone cliffs.
Mary O’Connell, Park Steward with Jerusalem Farm, a non-profit Catholic intentional community, has been instrumental with the process to acquire the six goats, including a mama and her kid.
“We’ve seen many groups using various livestock to graze and manage land,” O’Connell explained. “However, this idea came from a silly coincidence of my admittance to loving goats and a Facebook post in a neighborhood group about wanting goats in Kessler Park. We started researching and the idea to create a community-focused grazing method seemed plausible. We want the goats to eat invasive species, yes, but we also want the park to be a gathering space for our community to engage with one another.”
Funding for the project includes more than just purchasing the goats. Fencing that will keep the goats contained and secure, a trailer to house the goats at night or during bad weather, food, tools, insurance, and security monitors totaled a start-up cost projected at $25,000. As the program continues, the annual cost to maintain goats, equipment, and other expenses is budgeted at $10,000.
“We received a two-year Neighborhoods Rising Fund grant from Community Capital Fund,” O’Connell said. “The Goat Fund Me helped us get the community excited about welcoming the goats to the Northeast. We are still communicating with a couple other avenues for funding and grants.”
The “Goat Fund Me” campaign, which has raised nearly the $5,000 sought, allows sponsors to provide food, fencing and the trailer at levels beginning at $25 upward. A $500 sponsorship would allow donors to name a goat, and all those sponsorships were quickly filled.
The Cliff Drive herd is composed of head goat and mama “Ronnie” Isadore Donelly. Her baby, another female, was named Serenity. The remaining goats are all male and named Roman Lasso, Lony Cera (lonicera is the Latin classification name for honeysuckle), Nomad (sponsored by the Nomad Trails Development group), and Jordan Scheile (the founder of Jerusalem Farm).
O’Connell calls them all by their first names.
Earlier this summer, a herd of 70 goats and sheep were brought in by Port KC to clean up brush along the River Heritage Trail; a company named Goats on the Go was paid $3,000 to cover three acres in a three-week timespan.
The Kessler Park goats, which are a mix of breeds including Nigerian Dwarf, Nubian and Spanish, are being tapped as a long term solution to the acres and acres that need to be cleared. Unlike human volunteers that have tackled the project in recent years, for the goats it’s hardly work at all.
“The best thing is that the goats wouldn’t even call their work work,” O’Connell said. “They’d call it breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack time. They nibble until their bellies need to rest. Then they sit down, munch their cud, scratch an itch, sip some water and do it again. But everything stops if there is a human with a treat. Basically their work day consists of eating and resting. They will be kept in an enclosed trailer at night for some safe and cozy Z’s.”
The project received final approval from the Parks Board on July 11, then it took a few more weeks to line up insurance and sign the contract, which ensures the goat team will be on the job through December 31, 2025. The contract is then renewable in five year increments.
On August 2, a day with variable weather, the trailer containing the goats arrived at Gate 1, where the honeysuckle is less tall. A solar-powered section of electric fence was set up so that goats have a good space to roam but still have access to their trailer. With the damp grass, the goats were hesitant to leave the trailer, content to stay inside and chew their cud.
O’Connell explained that even though goats love to run and climb, they really don’t like to get their feet wet; once they feel the wet grass brushing their hair, they head for dry ground, which in this case is the comfort of their trailer. On sunnier days, they will get busy chomping the honeysuckle and poke berry bushes inside their enclosure and are expected to consume about 1/8 acre per week.
As the goats consume the invasive species, their fencing and trailer will continue to move further along the drive. For the most part, once the goats have cleared an area, there is little chance it will regrow, as the goats digestive system completely digests the plant’s seeds.
The goats will have access to their enclosure from dawn to dusk, when they’ll be secured into their trailer overnight. O’Connell will also keep an eye on the forecast to be sure they are secured in extreme weather.
While the herd will be instrumental in controlling the growth of invasive plants, volunteers (human) will still be needed to tackle areas where the honeysuckle has grown to 20 feet tall.
On Saturday, August 19, O’Connell and the Jerusalem Farm staff will be greeting visitors that want to meet the goats. The “meet & feed” will be from 1- 3 p.m. and offers a chance to pet the goats, learn their names, and offer them a treat.
Funding to care for the goats will be ongoing; to donate, visit gofundme.com and enter Lets Goat Local in the search bar.