Goatheads have long been a thorn in Boise’s side. Are festival collection efforts helping?

They’re prickly and seemingly inescapable: goatheads, the dried thorns of the puncturevine plant, have long been a scourge across the country. Last year, Boiseans launched a serious effort to rid the city of the invasive weed, but have they made any progress?

Local nonprofit Boise Bicycle Project launched Goathead Fest last year with dual intentions: to fill the void left by the Tour de Fat beer and bicycle event, which left Boise after 16 years, and to address the literal thorn in the city’s side (and in bike tires, shoes and dogs’ paws).

“People who were familiar with Tour de Fat, I think they were sad to see it go,” said Jimmy Hallyburton, founder of Boise Bicycle Project, in a phone interview. “... But being local gives us a chance to do something bigger.”

The second annual Goathead Fest starts Friday, Aug. 2, at Cecil D. Andrus Park in Downtown Boise. A pedal-powered parade takes off from the Idaho Statehouse steps on Saturday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m., followed by beer, bands and other celebrations in the park.

Goathead Fest certainly has lofty goals. Last year, festival organizers called on the community to uproot 4,000 pounds of the plants ahead of the event. Hallyburton said they fell just two or three pounds short of that. Still, they upped the ante this year, asking residents to cull 8,000 pounds of puncturevine. Collection ends on July 31. Collected plants should be turned in to the North End Organic Nursery, 3777 W. Chinden Blvd. in Garden City, and collectors receive prizes, such as free beer or ice cream at the festival, for hitting certain targets.

Hallyburton said there are more individual collectors this year turning in the plants, whose jagged fruits start to form in spring and early summer before drying into the namesake spines. The goal is to remove the plants before those seeds, or nutlets, have a chance to spread.

“It’s an annual plant, so if you remove one, you’re removing 5,000 potential seeds from going out into the universe,” said Martha Brabec, Foothills restoration specialist for Boise Parks and Recreation, in a phone interview.

Some sprawling weeds look like goatheads, but the leaves (and nasty seeds) are a dead giveaway. Katherine Jones Idaho Statesman file photo

Has goathead collection made a difference in Boise?

Locals are welcome to pull goatheads from just about anywhere, as the weeds are widespread across the city and in many people’s backyards. Hallyburton said the city of Boise, which partners with Boise Bicycle Project for the festival, focuses on keeping the plants from creeping into the Foothills.

Goathead Fest, on the other hand, has a map of hotspots where the plants are posing a significant problem. Many of them are in lower income neighborhoods and near schools, where children are more likely to use a bicycle as a primary means of transportation, Hallyburton said.

Boise Bicycle Project donates about 1,000 bikes per year to children in need. When the organization follows up with those recipients, most of them experience a flat tire within one year, and goatheads are often the culprit.

“We know we didn’t get rid of goatheads after the first year,” Hallyburton said. “But we know how often and how many kids are getting flat tires.”

His nonprofit has seen “a huge reduction” in the number of flat tires they’re repairing for recipients of the donated bikes.

Hallyburton said he and other goathead collectors have already noticed a decline in the plants this year. Part of that could be attributed to a cooler spring, Hallyburton said.

“The goatheads just aren’t as big (this year),” he said. “They aren’t growing back near as strong as they were before.”

goathead close2.jpg
Puncturevine's seed pods dry up and fall off the plant, leaving goatheads on sidewalks, trails and bike paths. Chadd Cripe ccripe@idahostatesman.com

It’s still too early to say what sort of impact the collection efforts are having, said plant expert Brabec.

“The seeds can stay dormant in the soil for five-plus years,” she said. “So that’s when we’re hoping to see some real results.”

Anecdotally, Brabec said, she’s already noticing a difference.

“While there are still goatheads here, it feels like much less than in previous years,” she said.

Brabec leads the city’s Weed Warriors program, which helps residents identify and remove all kinds of invasive plant species. She said the event has helped locals feel more confident about removing non-native plant species in the area.

“I really appreciate what Goathead Fest has done to empower people in Boise to get rid of invasive species instead of thinking it’s someone else’s problem,” she said.

That’s important because the ultimate goal is to eliminate the plant entirely.

“I believe in a goathead-free Boise,” Brabec said, “but I think it will take everyone pulling goatheads to do it.”

If you go to Goathead Fest

Where and when: Cecil D. Andrus Park, 601 W. Jefferson St., from 5 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 3. The bicycle parade starts on the Capitol steps across from the park at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Register for the parade online or at the event.

What to expect: Friday will include a welcoming ceremony at 7 p.m. and performances from local musicians. Saturday features a “freak bike” show, pedal-powered parade, bike polo expo and more local performers, among other events. Find a full schedule at boisegoatheadfest.com.

The festival is entirely plastic-free this year, and Hallyburton said attendees are encouraged to either bring their own reusable cups if they plan to drink beer or plan to buy or rent one of the stainless steel cups from the event. Additionally, Hallyburton said Goathead Fest is “doubling down on its bona fide Boise mission” — all beers will be from local breweries.

Pedal-powered parade: Just like in years past at Tour de Fat, the bicycle parade is a place to show off zany costumes (like last year’s humanoid goathead ensemble) and let loose. Attendees are encouraged to register for the parade ahead of time on the Goathead Fest website or plan to register at 10 a.m. on the Capitol steps.

Hallyburton said the registration will help organizers get a head count on attendance — they’re anticipating between 6,000 and 10,000 participants.

“It should be unlike anything people have seen on the Capitol steps before,” he said.

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