Goats make quick work of Towson University's yardwork

Towson University brought in the goats to tend to overgrown vines and trees at the Glen Arboretum this week.

Campus officials have set out to restore and preserve the 12 acres of green space in the center of campus from invasive species.

On Monday, the goats got to work for the fourth year in a fenced-in area of the Glen, as it’s commonly known. Their work was expected to continue throughout the week, but by lunchtime Wednesday most of the herd rested.

“They eat an inordinate amount of food for their size and have very fast metabolisms,” said Ronnie Cassilly, a goat herder at Harford County-based Harmony Church Farm, which owns the goats and offers what it calls sustainable forest restoration to universities, apartment complexes and other landowners.

Goats are used rather than machinery or pesticides to avoid sediment disturbance or runoff, Cassilly said. At Towson University, alternative methods could pollute the nearby stream that runs into the Jones Falls.

The Glen is sometimes used for meditation and learning, but not yet to the extent university officials hope is possible, said James Hull, a retired biology faculty member and Glen Arboretum board member.

Established in 2012 to oversee development of the woods, the board’s mission is to designate the Glen as a habitat for trees and shrubs native to Maryland. It also aims to make the area an accessible, outdoor oasis for the campus and off-campus communities, according to its website.

Harmony Church Farm’s task this week was the removal of Asian bittersweet, a thick, curvy root that weighs down native trees and makes them vulnerable to wind. The goats also chowed down on porcelain berry, which shades out native shrubs and young trees.

Both plants are thought to have been brought to the area as ornamental landscaping.

With their removal, native Maryland plants are able to thrive, Cassilly said.

This round of invasive plant removal using goats cost about $2,500, paid through an endowment for the Glen and donations, according to a university spokesman.

As the corners of Smith Hall were once again visible from the packed dirt footpath of the Glen, Cassilly said she— if not the goats— was ready to pack up shop by the afternoon.

“You can’t just leave them in an area or they’ll be nothing left,” Cassilly said.

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