by Michelle Pugliese, SAHC Land Protection Director
The sounds of kids crying as they made their way along the Appalachian Trail caused ripples of giggling among our group of volunteers on Round Bald this morning.
“They’re so cute!” – “I love it when they do that!” we exclaimed, with huge smiles. You would have laughed at these kids too: they were baby goats among the herd grazing the grassy balds in the Highlands of Roan.
These goats, part of the Baa-tany Goat Project, are an integral part of SAHC’s and our partners’ long history of managing the grassy bald habitat in the Roan. Thirty-four goats spent this summer grazing on Engine Gap. By simply living and eating on the balds they are fighting back the invasive woody vegetation that threatens many rare species on the Roan’s grassy balds. The Roan Mountain bluet, Roan Mountain goldenrod and Gray’s lily are a few of the rare flowers that depend on these open grassy habitats.
SAHC invites volunteers to help herd the goats up the mountain at the beginning of the summer and back down again near the end of summer. As a first-time goat herder, I was delighted to be a part of the process. About 30 volunteers gathered on the mountain not long after the sun rose over it.
After a short hike up the Appalachian Trail to the goat pen, we formed two lines on either side of the Trail. Standing about 10 feet apart with our arms spread wide, we were ready for the gentle stampede of goats when the gate was opened. Actually, it was more like releasing kids into a candy store…literally. They ran for a few seconds and then stopped to graze the fresh blackberry bushes outside their paddock. After some coaxing they moved along the Trail, some faster than others. A few renegades tried to make a run for it, but our team of volunteers gently guided them back into line, across Engine Gap, over Round Bald, and down to Carvers Gap. As the herd was loaded into the trailer to return to their home in Tennessee, my smile grew knowing I was part of an important step of SAHC’s habitat management. It was one of many days when my work is as fun as it is meaningful.