By Martha Michael
On the banks of hidden creeks which wind through the University of Georgia’s campus, UGA’s first mascot still reigns. Many students may remember that tidbit of trivia told to them by a tour guide on North Campus’s Herty Field, the original football field. Our beloved mascot has not always been a mighty English bulldog.
“Can anyone guess what animal it was?” the tour guide asks. “A bear? Lion? Mustang?” timid prospective students offer.
“A goat,” the tour guide says. Yes, really, a goat.
So it is fitting that since 2012 goats have yet again been making a name for themselves in Athens. But this time, the goats are doing more than serving as the rallying cry for UGA football. A herd of over 10 goats live in small patches of rare urban forest and streams that run through campus, eating invasive plant species and managing overgrowth as a sustainable alternative to herbicides and large mowing equipment.
This team of hardworking and insatiably hungry goats, aptly named the Chew Crew, were brought to campus with the help of a grant from the UGA Office of Sustainability. Zach Richardson, then a senior, was awarded the grant for his prescribed grazing proposal. Livestock like goats would remove exotic invasive plants and restore native forest adjacent to Tanyard Creek, which runs near the Hull Street parking deck.
Every spring and fall since 2012, the goats have been managing the landscape by eating plants such as the infamous kudzu, privet and English ivy. Before the Chew Crew arrives volunteers prep the area and clean up trash that would also be consumed by goats, who are known to eat anything, to prevent the garbage from being washed into the stream and polluting the water. This stream later empties into the North Oconee River – one of the main sources of drinking water for Athens – so the goats are doing their part to prevent endangering of a precious watershed, according to a story on the Crew by USA Today.
Furthermore, it is often hazardous for UGA to cut back plant growth and mow grass alongside stream banks – not to mention costly and less environmentally friendly due to fumes from equipment. With the assistance of the Chew Crew, UGA continues to make strides towards its 2020 Strategic Plan to “actively conserve resources, educate the campus community [and] influence positive action for people and the environment,” according to the Office of Sustainability.
This fall, the herd will be eating their way through the Driftmier Woods, a new Crew location near the Driftmier College of Engineering, and Tanyard Creek. "We hope to see our furry friends around early October," says Mary Howard, Office of Sustainability intern. "We were able to expand the scope of the Crew to Driftmier after being awarded the 2014 Ford C3 grant last year." This will be the third year the Crew will be placed at the Tanyard Creek site.
Richardson has since graduated, but the Crew is now herded up by Dr. Eric MacDonald, the faculty representative from the College of Environment and Design, as well as a team of Office of Sustainability interns. UGA students and interns Mary Howard and Devon Bullock work mainly with the Crew. Dave Hasslinger works with materials reuse to acquire construction materials to build fences, paddocks and exclosures. Corey Klawunder, the Complete Streets intern, helps survey site areas for the herd, and Emily Bilcik leads a new after school program for kids to work with the goats.
"The Chew Crew is a large project. We have our hands full for this semester," Howard says. "We actually have a pretty big team of people working to accomplish our goals. And of course, all the amazing volunteers and staff contacts who help us out all the time."
Anyone familiar with the Chew Crew knows the goats are friendly and have always shared a cheerful bleating with passersby during their time at Tanyard Creek. And because the Chew Crew was originally a student’s idea, the Office of Sustainability, Warnell School of Forestry and others involved with the herd, welcome any and all interest from UGA students.
Many Athens community members have been love-struck by the Crew as well. "We are always looking for more volunteers, and with two sites needing to get prepped before the goats come later this fall, we need all the help we can get!" Howard says.
This year, the Office of Sustainability approved another Ford C3 grant that helps fund an after school program for students from Barrow Elementary to work with the Chew Crew. This way young students can learn about eco-friendly restoration methods while enjoying the company of the most fun over-eaters.
Of all the green spaces on UGA’s campus, often the most important ones are those not easily seen. With another year of the Chew Crew’s help, UGA will not only continue to offer an entertaining stop for students on their way to class, but forge ahead in its “green” mission. Even by members of the UGA or Athens community simply noticing the presence of the goats, the Chew Crew raises awareness of environmentally responsible, alternative and fun measures to protect the hidden gems of forest and stream passed by every day.