It was about 15 minutes into the second-ever “Running of the Goats” ceremony on Wednesday when the large crowd of spectators gathered at 120th Street and Riverside Drive began chanting: “Free the goats! Free the goats!”
Twenty-four goats were awaiting their release into the not-so-wild to begin their weed-grazing journey through Riverside Park. The crowd erupted in cheers once the goats were let out of a trailer and began running down a staircase into a fenced enclosure.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything more random than this,” said Meera Sitaram, 30, of the Upper West Side.
After taking a hiatus last year because of the pandemic, the Riverside Park Conservancy brought the herd of goats back to the city this year in an effort to reduce the amount of invasive plants in certain areas of the park.
The masses gathered for the eccentric event listened to live musical performances, heard from local politicians and received free goat-embroidered fanny packs.
Five of the goats — Buckles, Chalupa, Mallemar, Ms. Bo Peep and the fan favorite Skittles — will stay in the park until the end of August. New Yorkers will be able to vote for their favorite online, in an election that, in a nod to the recent primary, will use ranked-choice voting.
Lynda Tower, vice president of operations for the Riverside Park Conservancy, a nonprofit group, said the idea came about because the group had been struggling to restore the area for the past 15 years.
“The site is on a really steep hill, and it’s very difficult to access,” Ms. Tower said. “We have volunteers come clear the species, and it comes back like three weeks later. It’s hard to do plantings. It’s hard to diversify the site. We finally realized that we were fighting a losing battle and maybe we needed some reinforcements. Hence the goats.”
Ms. Tower said the goats would spend the next couple of weeks at the restoration site eating invasive species like poison ivy.
“We were planning to do it last year, but obviously last year had its own challenges,” Ms. Tower said. “Hopefully, now we can plan to do it for a couple of years moving forward.”
She hopes that the goats will eventually denude the root systems enough to eliminate the invasive species, so herbicides won’t be needed to remove them.
Carol Berkin, 78, went to the first Running of the Goats, back in 2019, and noted how extravagant this year’s event was in comparison.
“Last time there wasn’t an eighth of this,” Ms. Berkin said. “Now they had a band and they sold shirts and the fanny pack. It’s a nice thing, and New Yorkers are just great about nice things.”
Danielle Chon-Briggs sat on her friend David Hernandez’s shoulders to watch the goats race. Another friend, Kristin Jordan, first told them about the event.
“I think in the last couple of years we’ve seen the Riverside Conservancy do more events and engage the neighborhood,” said Ms. Jordan, 48. “It feels great to see the community and feel safe among our friends and family again.”
Ms. Chon-Briggs, 24, said she had just moved to the Upper West Side from Brooklyn. “I’m very new to the neighborhood, so this was so amazing.”
She said she already had a favorite goat.
“There was one goat that came out and it literally didn’t know what to do,” she said. “It just waited for all the other goats to start running and then started running.”
Mr. Hernandez, 25, grew up on the Upper West Side and said he was surprised he hadn’t gotten tired of visiting the park he frequented as a child.
“I went to this park all the time,” he said. “But now it’s 10 a.m. and we’re all texting each other like, ‘We’ve got to go see these goats.’”