Sept. 13 2018 12:00 AM

Unusual landscape crew is enlisted to help clear park of invasive vine.

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The coal-country town of Thurmond, West Virginia, located at a bend of the New River, is practically a ghost town, a fact that has been used to draw tourists to the area. Its population is about to increase, however, thanks to the National Park Service, according to a story in The Register-Herald of Beckley, West Virginia.

These new residents won’t show up on a census, however, because they’re not human. Nor are they ghosts. They’re goats, being put to work curbing invasive plant species in Thurmond — most notably, kudzu, the invasive, prolific Asian vine that has been trying to smother the southern U.S. for decades.

"This is still kind of experimental," said Dave Bieri, Southern District supervisor of interpretation for the area’s national parks (the New River Gorge National River, where Thurmond is located, is owned by the park service). "It is going to be a three-year process."

The influx of cud-chewing kudzu-eaters won’t exactly reinvent the town as a 21st-century tourist mecca. But the new residents are sure to draw some curious looks nonetheless.

The caprine landscaping crew is on loan from Green Goats, a New York-based farm. They’ll remain in Thurmond for approximately a month, according to Bieri.

Over the years, multiple efforts to control invasive plant species around the area via chemical and mechanical means have been unsuccessful, according to a Park Service news release.

The situation in Thurmond is getting critical, however. The increasing encroachment of the pesky vine is putting the town's historic structures at greater risk of structural or fire damage.

The goats' propensity for eating pretty much anything in their path has led to successful invasive-plant treatments in the past. They’re no strangers to the government payroll, having helped clean up the Gateway National Recreation Area near New York City. They’ve also helped save a Civil War gun battery from being overtaken by invasive plants.

According to the Green Goats webpage, the cloven-hoofed landscapers have been used throughout the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania tri-state area.

After the goats finish their extensive buffet, Bieri says the park service will complete a survey and determine if it can declare “mission accomplished.”

If the effort is deemed successful — and if funds are available —they could possibly be used in other areas of the park.

"It's something that is a problem in plenty of other locations in the park," Bieri said of the invasive plants. "Especially some of our historic areas where the kudzu has kind of taken over."

The park is also looking at targeting two other invasive species, Japanese knotweed and multiflora rose. It’s unlikely that the goats will turn up their snouts at these other plants, as they’re not known to be picky eaters. They are vegetarians, however.

"Hopefully, this is going to be a successful way to try and take care of the nonnative invasive species," Bieri said.

The public is more than welcome to come gaze at the grazing goat squad. After work, the group can be found penned up on a hillside above the town’s main street.