116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Goats may be let loose to graze in city parks in a pilot project next year as Cedar Rapids explores policy changes that would allow controlled livestock grazing to help manage primarily unmaintained areas of parks.
Parks and Recreation Director Hashim Taylor said a team is working on ways the city could possibly do a pilot program to allow goat grazing to clear unwieldy brush. The ideal location would be Bever Park, most likely in summer 2023, he said. The Bever Park Neighborhood Association issued a request for goat grazing there.
Cedar Rapids ordinances do not currently allow electric fences in parks, so that is among the policies officials are examining. City code also does not permit unleashed animals within municipal parks unless the area is designated as an off-leash space and a dog displays a permit tag within the area’s boundaries.
Taylor said he was “really excited about it as a possibility.”
Use of the goats would require low-voltage electric fences. There would be an effort to add signage and communicate with the public about the fences, but staff said the electric current would feel “like a tickle” for any human who might touch it. Secondary fencing also would be preferred.
Depending on how the possible program takes shape, Taylor recently joked with the Parks, Waterways and Recreation Commission “there’s a possibility we’ll have a goat division.”
Parks Superintendent Mitch Ahrendsen said after Cedar Rapids lost about two-thirds of its tree canopy in the August 2020 derecho, the city is seeing an uptick in invasive species, including in areas where the city would like to replant.
“It’d be a control measure to help these other trees we're trying to establish,” Ahrendsen said of the possible use of goats.
Ahrendsen said the goats would be used in no-mow or natural areas that staff can’t typically access to otherwise maintain.
Brendan Paul, president of the Bever Park Neighborhood Association, said the group is interested in replanting in the forested area of Bever Park to reestablish the ecosystem.
But first, he said the group hopes to use goats to tackle the invasive species that have grown since the devastating storm and been given a chance to take hold thanks to the sunlight that streams in because of tree canopy loss.
“Getting these goats back there and mowing everything down and kind of restarting, rebooting it, and then giving trees a chance to get out is the goal,” Paul said. “We'd love to test that.”
Plus, Paul said the goats come with a novelty factor that draws people in to watch them on the job.
Chris Thoms, vice chair of the city’s Parks, Waterways and Recreation Commission, supported the idea at a recent meeting.
“As long as this has been around as an idea, I’m happy to see you are analyzing it,” Thoms said.
The city still has to determine the parameters of the pilot program, so there is no definitive cost at this time, Taylor said.
The city would contract for the goats. So far, staff have consulted with Toledo, Iowa, based Blue Collar Goatscaping to learn more about the possibility.
Adam Ledvina, owner of Blue Collar Goatscaping, said his business currently has between 300 and 500 goats. About 100 goats can clear an acre a day — usually thick, brushy or wetland areas.
He used to work for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and that prompted the start of his business. The Iowa DNR was looking for ways to reduce the use of herbicides, cut down on expensive machinery and avoid the dangers of using human staff to work steep angles.
Some critics of the use of goats to cut down on weeds and invasive species say they don’t get at the root of the plants. But Ledvina said no fix is a one-and-done solution.
For instance, he said, herbicides would need to be sprayed again in another season, and there are negative environmental impacts with soil erosion and resulting water pollution. Machines also don’t get at the root, but disturb the soil. Goats leave the grass that’s supposed to be there, Ledvina said.
Ledvina typically works with the Iowa DNR, some cities and private landowners or conservation organizations. Smaller cities typically are able to swiftly make policy changes, Ledvina said, but a city of Cedar Rapids’ size has more bureaucratic hoops to jump through.
“The issue with a lot of cities is there are ordinances and they’re always kind of trying to work around those ordinances, whether it doesn't allow livestock or doesn't allow electric net fences or electric fences in general,” Ledvina said.
In recent years, his company completed a job near the General Store Pub in Stone City in Jones County. The goats cleared an area that spurred a recreational space with trails.
Most people love to watch the goats in the warmer months, Ledvina said, with some families sitting there for an hour or more to observe as the animals do their grazing work.
“Go watch the goats and it's a pretty good time, and they're friendly and they're just fun to watch do their thing,” Ledvina said.
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