This fall, hundreds of visitors at Freedom Park in Prescott, Wis. experienced something nobody at Freedom Park had ever before experienced. Standing at the very edge of the blufftop, they heard munching, crunching, rustling, and… bleating. The Friends of Freedom Park hosted a herd of 47 goats to kick off the new stage of their prairie restoration project!
“This is probably the most exciting thing that’s happened here at the park all year! It’s super fun to watch the goats do their work, and they do this work better than anyone else. We need them to get rid of the invasive leafy plants and shrubs so that the grassy native prairie plants can have enough sun to grow,” said Israel Haas, Executive Director of the Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center.
The Friends of Freedom Park contracted with Great River Greening to bring goats from Diversity Landworks to Freedom Park. During their 8-day stay, the goats ignored the big oak trees that are part of the original oak savannah but chowed down on invasive buckthorn, black locust, and sumac, munching off the leaves and stripping the bark from these plants that have been threatening our globally-rare bluff prairie.
While they ranged across the bluffside, they offered more than just invasive-species control: they enriched the soil with their manure, their hooves pushed recently-strewn native grass seed into the ground, and they provided a whole lot of entertainment for our human visitors.
Hosting the goats is part of a 9-year prairie restoration plan that will cost $70,000 to complete. The bluff prairie remnant is one of Freedom Park’s most unique and important assets. A bluff prairie provides important nesting and resting places for migratory birds and pollinators, which have suffered massive declines in the last 50 years.
More than 325 species of birds migrate every year along the Mississippi River Flyway, but over 2.5 billion of these migratory birds have been lost since 1970. This amounts to a 30% loss in population.
Freedom Park is doing its part to care for birds such as indigo buntings, Eastern bluebirds, yellow warblers, Baltimore orioles, and more. Eradicating invasive plants, cultivating native species, and managing the site through grazing and controlled burns will make the bluff prairie an ideal place for these neo-tropical songbirds to stop on their journey.
This is a big restoration project to tackle! The Friends of Freedom Park could not do this without the support of individuals and businesses.
Xcel Energy of Wisconsin awarded the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center a $3,000 grant this year to support habitat restoration efforts. Xcel Energy of Wisconsin has been a faithful supporter of the Friends of Freedom Park since 2006. Because of Xcel Energy’s generosity the Friends of Freedom Park is able to continue their long-term partnership with Great River Greening who is managing the restoration project.
Other supporters of the project include the Prescott branch of First National Bank of River Falls who donated $250 and almost 40 individuals who have given a total of $4,500 this year toward the fund-a-goat campaign.
This autumn, the goats helped Freedom Park take a huge step towards the goal of a self-sustaining native bluff prairie habitat. But much work remains. Invasive plants are tough and it takes more than just a few days with a herd of goats to fend them off. In the spring the goats will return to Freedom Park for another banquet of invasive plants.
The Great River Road Visitor and Learning Center is committed to connecting people to the confluence and promoting enjoyment of the rivers through nature, history, art, and recreation. Visit freedomparkwi.org to learn more.