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Preservation employs goats to protect park

The Sharp Hill Preservation Society (SHPS) is getting a helping hand from some four-legged creatures this summer.

To tackle a thistle problem near Sharp Hill Park’s creek bed, located just southeast of Airdrie, the society hired the services of Baah’d Plant Management and Reclamation – a company that uses goats to remove invasive weeds.

“We specialize in organic vegetation control, or weed control, and we use goats for target browsing,” said Jeannette Hall, owner and environmental consultant.

SHPS president Dan Giercke said the goats’ main benefit is that they’re environmentally-friendly. Considering the creek bed in the park is a watershed area, he said, pesticides are not permitted and using the goats is an ideal solution.

“Over the last few years, there’s been a push to be more environmentally-friendly – less pesticides, that sort of thing,” he said. “So, when we heard about the goat program…we thought that would be a unique way to handle a problem area.”

The goats were initially supposed to be on-site Aug. 21, according to Hall, but their arrival was delayed due to extreme heat conditions that day. Instead, the goats started grazing Aug. 26.

“You do have to train the goats to eat weeds,” Hall said. “Our herd has been together for more than 12 years doing this, so they’re very reliable when we come to the site. You often hear stories about people crying because their goats aren’t eating the weeds – it takes a lot of training and dedication.”

Eradicating invasive weeds isn’t the only project SHPS has undertaken this year. Giercke said the society has been hard at work to improve the 22-acre park in various ways.

“We started putting in tree beds and that sort of thing,” he said. “It’s been a 10-year project that is still ongoing.”

After setting up picnic tables and benches a few years ago, SHPS installed fencing around the park last year.

The society’s biggest project has been the installation of four interpretative signs, which tell stories about the area’s past.

“The history is there, but if nobody knows about it, it doesn’t do anyone any good,” Giercke said.

The signs include stories about the Kirby family, which owned land in Sharp Hill for much of the 20th century, as well as of the only stagecoach robbery in Alberta’s history. According to the sign, the robbery happened somewhere in Sharp Hill, along what was known as the Stagecoach Trail, in 1886. A replica stagecoach near the entrance to the park memorializes that event. According to Giercke, the replica was donated by Archie Bushfield – a local rancher and developer who built it as a promotional tool for the Calgary Stampede.

“It was sitting at the south entrance to Sharp Hill, but when we started doing the park space, we thought it would be better to put it in the park and try to preserve it as a part of the park’s history,” Giercke said. “A lot of people see the stagecoach and don’t know why it’s there.

“Hopefully, we can get some school groups out here for field trips, so they can learn some of the history of the area.”

He said SHPS’ next project is to create a small parking lot, as well as a gravel or paved pathways through the east and west sides of the park.

“That’s the primary use we see – people walking through the area,” he said. “Lots of people bring their dogs here. It’s not designated as on- or off-leash, but we ask people who come here to be responsible pet owners and clean up after them.”

SHPS is a non-profit society dedicated to the preservation of Sharp Hill Park and was created about a decade ago.

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