WALLA WALLA, Wash. – A herd of goats arrives on Tuesday, June 16, to remove weeds and other vegetation growing on levees that border the creek shoreline extending from the Mill Creek diversion dam downstream to the metal division works foot bridge near the Mill Creek Office.
The first phase of grazing (about 280 goats) is planned for the south side of the Mill Creek channel. The adjacent gravel access road between the vehicle gate and the wooden foot bridge will be temporarily closed to all visitors while the herd is located there. The duration of temporary closure is dependent upon how long it takes the goats to clear the unwanted vegetation, according to Mill Creek staff. Horse trailers should not park near the office as they will not be able to access the South Levee Trail and cannot cross the metal bridge at the division works. Equestrians can still park their horse trailers and access trails at the Bennington Lake parking lot.
The second phase of grazing is scheduled to occur when the south side is finished. The goats will graze amongst the rip rap slopes on the north side of the creek. The adjacent paved trail will remain accessible to visitors. Visitors’ dogs must be leashed at all times while walking on the north (paved) side of Mill Creek and in Rooks Park.
Once areas downstream of the diversion dam are cleared of vegetation, the herd will be relocated upstream to tackle vegetation on the forebay levee. The forebay levee will be closed while the goats are grazing there, although the paved trail will remain open along the toe of the levee. Contractors estimated the entire job will take about 2-3 weeks to complete.
This project is necessary to allow U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff to safely inspect portions of the levee later this year during periods of flood risk. A $5,900 contract for the vegetation removal was awarded to Northwest Goat Grazers of Lostine, Oregon. Goat grazing is an effective way to control vegetation without using herbicides or burning. Grazing also lessens future maintenance by reducing seed production, added Alex Colter, project manager for Mill Creek’s vegetation management project.
The contractor uses electric fencing, shepherds and professional working dogs to keep the goats corralled while working in the vegetation-maintenance zone. The metal division works foot bridge near the Mill Creek Office will be open for use during this time. In-water recreational activities in the Mill Creek channel along the vegetation removal zone will also be temporarily suspended during this time, because the working dogs may perceive them as a threat to the herd. Visitors and their dogs can play in the water downstream of the metal division works foot bridge or at Bennington Lake.
Visitors should not attempt to approach the goats or working dogs -- young goats will be present and the ewes are pretty protective. The public is advised to keep their distance and let them do their job of eating the weeds and brambles off of the levee.
For more information about this project or for general information about Mill Creek Dam and Bennington Lake, call the Mill Creek Office at 527-7160 or visit their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/millcreekdam.
Release no. 15-036