By Anna Mejorada
On a muggy Friday morning, I slathered myself in sunscreen and trotted off into Riverside Park with my husband, Chris, to gleefully welcome the new squad of goats to the Upper West Side for the summer. We donned our matching goat-adorned t-shirts for the occasion because we are big fans of the Riverside Park goats — and proud of it!
As Upper West Siders nestled between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive for well over a decade, Chris and I consider Riverside Park to be an extension of our home. We pay close attention to updates from the Riverside Park Conservancy and the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, and we take great pride in seeing our communal backyard evolving and thriving with sustainability, preservation, recreation, and the admiration of nature, all co-existing within the plans for the Park’s future.
In place of the “Running of the Goats” ceremony that marked the arrival of previous generations of weed-eating interns, the Conservancy designated the “2023 Goatham Initiative” to be a joint celebration, marking the arrival of the goats along with the unveiling and demonstration of the new Compost Compound at 95th Street in action in the park.
Upon entering the compound, we found ourselves surrounded by other like-minded pro-goat attendees, many dressed in similar fashion to us, sporting the official goat merch from the Riverside Park Conservancy.
“I think it’s a great sustainability initiative and also we love the goats. We think they are really cute!” said Hannah Bein who came from the Upper East Side with her friend to admire the goats.
“I love goats and you can tell the world that I think they are wonderful!” proclaimed Lisa Maldonado, an Upper West Side local who has attended the welcoming of the goats every year since the inaugural event in 2018 (save for 2020 because of the pandemic).
Eager attendees of all ages were vying for their opportunity to snap a few social media-worthy photos of the freshman goats before they hoof up to their summer residency in Riverside Park’s Forever Wild woodland (between 119th and 122nd Streets) where they’ll put their spectacular ability to eat invasive plants to good use.
“Together we can make bigger things happen, and sometimes the most innovative ideas are the simplest ones” declared Anthony Perez, Manhattan Borough Commissioner of NYC Parks & Recreation, during opening remarks. “ So let’s get the goats out there and let them do what they do!”
“We’re composting, we’re goat-ing, and we’re making sure that the park is healthy,” announced City Councilmember Gale Brewer to a crowd of cheers before the new crew of goats was introduced.
Cowgirl proudly came out first for the spotlight—followed by Chico, Charlie, and Mallomar — who all needed a bit of coaxing by their handlers before agreeing to enter the photo opp space.
I was front row for the culmination of the ceremony, which featured a long vine of mugwort braided together with a lush mix of other locally invasive plants for the ribbon-chewing part of the festivities.
In addition to the goats, attendees enjoyed live music, were gifted Goatham-themed bandanas courtesy of Con Edison, took photos with a goat statue (no one is allowed to pet the real goats), viewed the active composting sections, and were invited to learn more about composting efforts in Riverside Park and throughout the city.
The new Compost Compound, made possible by a generous donation from an unnamed philanthropist (I strive to one day be so simultaneously generous and mysterious), is already being put to use turning leaves, clippings, and other organic material generated from normal maintenance of the park grounds into a nutrient-rich fertilizer that will go right back into making the park even more beautiful and earth friendly. This includes the practice of solarization which is a special technique that uses the heat from the sun to kill invasive seeds and eradicate other harmful organisms that might try to hitch a ride back into the park.
This year’s quad of goats is expected to stay for a few months. “The goats will eat the vegetation for the summer to keep the invasives from storing energy in their roots and growing back,” explained Ann Cihanek, owner of Green Goats in Rhinebeck, New York, where each class of Riverside Park goats originates.
Chihank, who runs Green Goats with her husband, currently has goats as far away as West Virginia, with herds eating their way through invasive plant buffets in state parks, arboretums, cemeteries (spooky!), and on golf courses. Cihanek shared that the goats from last year — Skittles, Cheech, Big “G”, and Elenor — are in high demand, with a long waitlist of people specifically requesting the “Riverside Goats.” For now, however, they are all back upstate doing what they do best—eating!