Go watch a flock of goats eat Congressional Cemetery

August 7, 2013

Congressional Cemetery has gone to the goats.

Through Monday, around 100 "eco-goats" will live in the historic Southeast Washington cemetery, devouring vines, bushes and invasive species and keeping the towering trees from being overrun by harmful plants which could then cause the trees to topple. (The "eco" name of the goats is because the animals are removing ground cover and weeds without the use of pesticides, which the cemetery wanted to avoid due to its proximity to the Anacostia watershed.)


"Eco-goats" eat their way through Congressional Cemetery, removing vegetation and invasive species without the use of pesticides. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

Congressional Cemetery draws crowds of tourists, joggers and dog walkers on a daily basis, and the addition of the goats should attract even more visitors. Here's what you need to know if you go visit.

These are not really free-ranging goats. The herd is in the far southeast corner of the cemetery, along the wooded treeline that backs up to the Anacostia. They're living behind a tall chain link fence, away from all the gravestones. (So no, don't worry about seeing a goat "fertilizing" anyone's final resting place.) They can freely move around the fenced-in area, which totals about 1.6 acres, but can't leave the wooded valley.

To find the goats, enter through the usual gate on Potomac Avenue SE, and follow signs with pictures of a herd of goats on them.

Bring the kids. The goats are wandering around the woods, but they're easy to see through the chain link fence. Just try to keep children's fingers away from the fence, as they may look like food to the goats.

This isn't a petting zoo. You can't touch or feed the adorable goats, but you can watch them consume all the leafy vegetation in their path, like hairy lawnmowers.

Weekend tours will go on as usual. The cemetery won't have interpreters or volunteers stationed at the area where the goats are grazing, but there are signs explaining the eco-goat program and its goals. A free introductory tour of the historic cemetery begins at the chapel at 11 a.m. on Saturday. If you visit at other times, you can take a self-guided tour using the brochures available at the entrance of the cemetery. The gatehouse, which is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, offers printed self-guided tours on such topics as "the War of 1812" or "Women of Arts and Letters." (You can also print PDFs of these tours from the Congressional Cemetery website, or just follow them on your smartphone.)

Members can still walk their dogs in the cemetery. The area of the cemetery adjacent to the woods has been declared a "dog-free zone," but it's business as usual for much of the area. (Please note that you must be a member of the private dog-walking program to bring your dog to Congressional Cemetery.)

As always, the cemetery is open from dawn to dusk, and admission is free, but donations to the non-profit cemetery are appreciated.


While the goats are cute, this isn't a petting zoo. Keep children's fingers away from the goats, and don't try to feel them. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

The herd of eco-goats will spend six days grazing in a 1.6-acre area of the cemetery, living behind a chain link fence. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
Fritz Hahn writes about bars, drinks and nightlife for The Washington Post weekend section.
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