COTTAGE GROVE - They're baaaaa-ck.
A hungry herd of goats are enjoying spring break in Cottage Grove Ravine Regional Park, where they're devouring buckthorn shrubs, garlic mustard and other invasive weeds that threaten the ecosystem.
The goat flash mob is part of a rehabilitation effort by the county and the South Washington Watershed District. By chewing up the noxious weeds, they will help to encourage the growth of the park's native groundcover and make the soil more resistant to erosion.
Ravine Park is a link in the Watershed District’s Central Draw Overflow project, which will channel unusually heavy rainwater from Woodbury and Cottage Grove to the Mississippi River.
Goats were first deployed by South Washington County Parks in 2016. This year, the critters are grazing 38 acres at the northern edge of the park near Cottage Grove City Hall.
The county was among the earliest adopters of grazing as a green alternative to herbicides, natural resources coordinator Dan MacSwain said.
"With the goats, we're setting back the undesirable vegetation," he said. "We're trying to get sunlight down to that forest floor to allow the other native ground cover and other species to fill in and become more abundant."
Goats are particularly suited to clearing garlic mustard, crown vetch and other noxious weeds. Acids in their stomach destroy seeds that might otherwise be cycled back into the soil. They can navigate hilly terrain and remote places where machinery might be impractical.
The goats are leased from Minnesota Native Landscapes in Otsego. The company's Conservation Grazing Program also hires out bison, cattle and sheep to consume invasive vegetation.
They'll remain through the end of the month and possibly into June, MacSwain said.
"The amount of goats will vary throughout the project period," he said. "People shouldn't expect to see a ton of goats all the time."
The goats' paddock is enclosed by an electrified fence with a second, non-electric fence adjacent to trails. Signs will be posted along the fence to alert park users to their presence. Visitors are permitted to drop by, but dogs must be leashed. The goats are currently grazing on a soft trail near Cottage Grove City Hall but will gradually eat their way south toward Ravine lake. To view a map with their exact location, visit