SUMMIT, NJ — Throughout the past year, from when the leaves first started falling until long after they’d grown back, staff members at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum were bombarded with the same, recurring question: Are the goats coming back?
The short is answer is yes. A herd of highly popular eco-goats, now at 20 strong, will make another appearance at the arboretum’s annual “Celebrate Fall” festival on Sunday, Oct. 25, according to Frank Juliano, the Executive Director of the arboretum.
After the goats debuted at last year’s festival, the event’s 1,000-plus visitors were “just enraptured” by the lovely goats, said Juliano, which are friendly animals that can get anyone in a festive spirit.
“There are a couple of reasons. All of these goats have been hand nursed, so they’re very comfortable with humans. As a result, they are really sweet and friendly, and I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anything about goats, but they have very distinct personalities,” said Juliano. “And it is great fun to see a goat and — it’s like a dog with horns, they’re very adorable, they’re so sweet. And people love that.
As a result, the arboretum received calls year-long from people “asking if we’re bringing the goats back,” said Juliano. The goats were so well-received that the arboretum started a Sponsor-a-Goat program, where people sponsored a member of the herd and received a certificate for “good goatsmanship.”
At this year’s “Celebrate Fall” event, hosted by the county’s lone arboretum, local residents will have another opportunity to get involved with these animals. Stations are going to be set up for people to feed and interact with the goats, which are called “eco-goats” because of their job description.
“There are people across the country who use their goats primarily for clearing purposes, and they’re hired by places like arboretums and non-profits and cemeteries, and places like that, and they clear out the overgrown areas,” said Juliano. “In our case, and in many other cases, these are areas that you don’t want to use pesticides on, and they are very difficult for humans to traverse, and so the goats come in. It’s an eco-friendly way of eliminating unwanted plants in overgrown areas.”
In the Reeves-Reed Arboretum’s case, the goats patrol the hilly, rocky terrain on-site, as well as the “Daffodil Bowl,” a glacial kettle planted with more than 50,000 daffodil bulbs. It’s an historic part of the property, said Juliano, that draws people from all over the place, and clearing the Daffodil Bowl takes months by human hands.
The goats, though, happily cut through the daffodil bulbs in about two weeks.
“After the bulbs bloom and are spent, we allow the property there to grow wild so it becomes a habitat. As a result, it gets so wild that it has to be cut down at the end of the season, in the fall,” said Juliano. “For years and years, our staff did this by hand, and it took literally months. If they were lucky, they got it done before the hard frost, and if they weren’t lucky, they were stuck. And we need to re-stock and replenish the Daffodil Bowl with more bulbs, and that’s where the concept of the goats came in.”
The presence of the goats helped spread awareness about “Celebrate Fall,” which will also feature face painting, a costume parade, apple cider demonstrations, pumpkin decorating and various birds of prey, among them hawks and falcons. That kind of recognition helps the arboretum pull in more people with which to engage.
“Our visitorship has increased from 28,209 to over 70,000 now. These community events – this is ‘Celebrate Fall,’ the other is ‘Daffodil Day’ in the spring – are now bringing in well over 1,000 people per event,” said Juliano. “At Daffodil Day we had 1,430 people here on one day, which is unheard of. We used to do 500, maybe 800, now we’re doing well over 1,000. And people came from more than 61 surrounding communities. It’s blowing our mind here.”
Other changes that have helped, said Juliano, include social media and the rise of local bloggers. And when members of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum have gotten people’s attention, said Juliano, they try to help people appreciate the biodiversity on display, even in Summit alone.
“Our service is in our programming and the meticulous way we maintain the property, and the site. So the awareness grows, because people will come by,” said Juliano. “Even people who have lived in Summit will say ‘gee, I’ve never actually been here.’ And all of a sudden, they’re enthralled and engaged, and that’s the key word there, engaged. They become friends, they become partners in this.”
Admission to “Celebrate Fall” is free to Reeves-Reed Arboretum members. For non-members, admission is $10 per person or $25 per family. Children under three are free.