Young Nubian goats arrived at Fort Hancock in Sandy Hook, N.J., in July 2013 to help eradicate the infestation of poison ivy in and around the mortar batteries.
(Photo: Mary Frank, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press)
SANDY HOOK, N.J. -- For months now they've bleated at each other, locked horns and whiled away their days on the hill.
But enough about Congress.
The budget impasse in Washington, D.C., has chased a herd of ivy-eating goats from the Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, N.J., ending their summerlong smorgasbord.
Looking fat and happy, the last of about 28 Nubians were trucked out Friday, bound for their home on a farm in upstate New York, said their owner, Larry Cihanek.
Cihanek, of Rhinebeck, N.Y., said he had to remove the animals for their own protection, in the event that a government shutdown shutters the park which is run by the National Park Service. He said he pulled another group of his goats out of Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island, N.Y., for the same reason.
The Sandy Hook herd was brought in to help eradicate a profusion of poison ivy that was undermining the historic Fort Hancock mortar battery whose long guns protected New York Harbor for decades, through the end of World War II.
The toxic plants were so pervasive that one park ranger dubbed the area "Poison Ivy National Monument." Cihanek said it was the densest concentration of ivy he's ever seen.
The goats, who can't get enough of the stuff, were only too eager to go where landscapers feared to tread. When the hungry Nubians arrived in July, 6 acres of fenced-in jungleland became their private, 24-hour salad bar. Curious park visitors and locals treated them like celebrities during their stay.
"They were a tremendous hit. The public just loved them," said Betsy Barrett, president of the nonprofit Sandy Hook Foundation, which expected to spend about $12,000 for the goats' services through the end of the year.
Barrett said park rangers wound up adopting two of the younger goats that kept trying to escape from their electrified enclosure to socialize with their human admirers.
"They are just so darned cute," Barrett said.
It remains to be seen whether the goats earned their keep. Cihanek said that from what he could see, it appears that his charges rose to the challenge.
"In a 45-minute walk, I think I found 12 leaves," he said. "There was essentially zero poison ivy. I would consider it totally successful."
Some experts say that it takes sustained grazing to starve the poison ivy's roots and stop the plants from regenerating. Barrett said park rangers will have to do a more thorough inspection to assess whether the goats did the trick or may need to return. Though the site is considerably clearer, getting landscaping machinery up its steep slopes to clear larger bushes and trees that have rooted themselves into the cement battery may still be something of a chore, she said.
Barrett was asked whether there might be another "natural" solution to that problem. Some oxen, perhaps?
"I hadn't thought of that," she said. "You never know."
Shannon Mullen, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press