This fall, visitors to the historic ghost town of Thurmond, West Virginia, will encounter more than ghosts. They'll encounter goats.
The National Park Service at the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve is implement a plan to use goats to treat invasive plants among its historic buildings, according to ranger Dave Bieri.
"Resource managers are experimenting with using an integrated pest management approach to treat non-native vegetation including Japanese knotweed, multiflora rose, and kudzu," Bieri explained.
"These invasive plants tend to take over an area, forcing out native species that wildlife depend upon. At Thurmond, kudzu also puts historic structures at risk and contributes to a heavier fuel load, thereby increasing the risk of fire danger."
In the past, Bieri said, resource-management staff has used various approaches to removing non-native species at Thurmond, including chemical treatment and mechanical removal, all with little success.
"Goats have proved to be effective at killing plants because they eat all the foliage, which then prompts the plant to use up stored energy in roots for new growth, he said.
"Goats will then continuing eating the plant, stressing and weakening it until it can no longer survive. Goats also eat flowers, which ensures that the plant will not go to seed and seeds are destroyed when passed through their digestive system."
The goats will remain at Thurmond for approximately one month or until they've depleted the foliage.
The goat-management program is part of a three-year project, so they will return over the next two years.
During this time, the park service will conduct research on the understory and shrub layer vegetation, pre-grazing and post-grazing, to see if there are significant effects on non-native invasive vegetation.
The grazed areas will later be seeded with native grass and wildflowers at the end of the third year to promote the growth of native species.
The goats will be on loan from Green Goats, a company that has provided goats to the National Park Service in the past at Gateway National Recreation Area, in New York, where they were used to remove plants that were damaging a Civil War gun battery.
These “weapons of grass destruction” are retired dairy and 4-H goats that now make their living eating unwanted vegetation, Bieri said.
Visitors are welcome to come down to Thurmond over the next month to see the goats in action. While there, be sure to check out the historic Thurmond Depot and Commercial Row. For more information or updates, please visit the park website at www.nps.gov/neri.