HIGH POINT (AP) — The vegetation behind the old Highland Mill complex is as thick as a jungle, but Ron Searcy has no doubt that his charges will make short work of it.
Searcy, owner of Wells Farm in the North Carolina mountain community of Horse Shoe, recently brought about 50 of his goats to the property surrounding the mill to begin eating their way through the kudzu, grass, small trees and other growth as part of a neighborhood revitalization effort.
“There’s a chain link fence back there somewhere. Here in a week or 10 days, you’ll probably be able to see it,” said Searcy, looking toward an area downhill from the mill property where Richland Creek runs. “There’s almost 17 acres here. I can’t see them being in this area much more than a week or 10 days.”
Searcy was hired by a group of grassroots volunteers, the Southwest Renewal Foundation, which received a grant from the city.
The foundation works to revitalize the 2-square-mile area between English Road, S. Main Street and W. Market Center Drive which was once the city’s industrial heart but is now filled with closed furniture and textile plants.
The foundation is seeking to develop a greenway along Richland Creek, and it brought in the goats to clear the kudzu and other vegetation that surrounds it.
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” said foundation co-chair Dorothy Darr. “We’ve always thought that if we could just be able to get people to see the beautiful creek, we think it will be a big boon. Most people don’t even know it’s there right behind the mill.”
Highland Mill closed about 20 years ago. Cisco Brothers, a furniture company, uses a portion of the property for showroom space.
There are about 50 acres of kudzu along Richland Creek where the foundation wants the greenway to run. The goats tackled one section of it last year.
The animals will be here the rest of the summer, each consuming up to 18 pounds of kudzu and other invasives per day. The more they eat, the less machinery and pesticides are needed to eradicate the kudzu for good.
“The kudzu will come back, but when you see it come back a second time, it’s much more spindly. The leaves are much smaller. You can kind of tell that the plant’s being stressed a little bit,” said Searcy. “Once the goats are done, you can keep it mowed and sprayed. Repeated grazing will kill it out. It will take several years.”
Darr said the goats will cost about $1,200 per acre cleared. The foundation has about $33,000 in funds allocated by the City Council that it will use for the goat project and other upcoming initiatives.
The group is continuing to pursue funding for a feasibility study for the greenway and is involved in a host of other initiatives that its leaders hope will draw new businesses and create a better quality of life for neighborhood residents.