Outdoors Blog

Goathead-free Boise? Quirky video, festival and community challenge are just the start.

Make sure you use gloves when removing goatheads. The seeds are still prickly even when they're green.
Make sure you use gloves when removing goatheads. The seeds are still prickly even when they're green.

A goathead letting the air out of your bike tire, or causing your dog to limp suddenly, is no laughing matter.

But maybe a little humor is just what we need to finally make some headway in controlling one of Boise’s most irksome weeds.

The Boise Bicycle Project and City of Boise have partnered on a push for volunteers to remove at least two tons of goathead plants (puncturevine, technically) during the month of July. The project also serves as promotion for the inaugural Boise Goathead Fest, the Aug. 3-4 celebration of the bicycle community that replaces Tour de Fat.

The first big push for the goathead project was a clever video featuring Jimmy Hallyburton, the founder and executive director of BBP, and Martha Brabec, the Foothills restoration specialist for Boise Parks and Recreation. The video has more than 20,000 views and nearly 300 shares on Facebook since it was posted July 6.

“We saw it as a really unique opportunity to engage a different demographic of people in invasive-species issues,” Brabec said. “Everybody has a personal experience with goatheads.”

It’s the dried-up seeds from puncturevine that are commonly known as goatheads and cause so much consternation for Boiseans who bike, walk and run through town and the Foothills. The seeds maddeningly stick in tires, shoes, balls and puppy paws — and that’s also how the plant regenerates and spreads. Puncturevines are annual plants, so they need to seed new plants for the ensuing years.

[Related: What to do if you get a goathead in your tire]

Hallyburton wants to reduce the problem in large part because of what he sees at the Boise Bicycle Project, which recycles used bikes, teaches people how to maintain bikes, donates bikes to kids and otherwise promotes cycling. Many of the bicycle recipients live in low-income areas with goathead problems. Flat tires are common — and some of the kids don’t understand that those flats can be fixed easily, Hallyburton said.

The BBP provides about 800 bikes per year to kids, he said. Many go to refugees.

“We know every single one of those kids is getting a flat tire within the first year we get a bicycle to them,” Hallyburton said. “Almost all of those flat tires are caused by goatheads. A lot of the kids, if they are able to get down here, they come here (to fix it). Sometimes there’s one goathead; sometimes there’s 50.”

Fixing the goathead problem is a daunting task. Brabec says 5 million puncturevines spread across Boise “is a humble estimation.” She sprays them in some locations and pulls them with volunteers in the city’s Weed Warriors program.

“They’re still just everywhere,” Brabec said. “It’s incredible.”

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

Still, it’s a problem that can be solved if everyone affected by goatheads chips in, she said.

“Picking five plants every time you’re hiking on your favorite trail makes a difference,” she said. “... We might be able to live in a goathead-free Foothills someday. That’s idealistic for sure, but that’s my dream.”

And she’s willing to get creative to achieve that goal — even if that means going far outside her comfort zone to act in the 2 1/2-minute video, where she plays the ultra-serious, information-providing scientist alongside Hallyburton’s enthusiastic but goofy character who wants to know how “a strapping dude such as myself” can “go about punching the goathead problem right in the face.”

Brabec’s role?

“Jimmy said I should consider myself like I had to draw straws with my coworkers and I drew the short straw so I had to be there,” she said.

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Martha Brabec, the Foothills restoration specialist for Boise Parks and Recreation, and Jimmy Hallyburton, the founder of Boise Bicycle Project, star in a short video explaining the goathead collection project. Courtesy Boise Bicycle Project/City of Boise

Hallyburton wrote the script — inspired by a sketch about milk from “Portlandia” — and local filmmaker Guy Hand produced it. The goal was to keep the video fun but educational, with the “wacky and zany” personality the BBP is known for, Hallyburton said.

An 11-year-old who has received several bikes from BBP, Ashilo, also appears in the video. He’s in the BBP’s youth leadership group and dealt with many flat tires last year.

The hope is that the video breaks down any intimidation factor for volunteers, provides the necessary education to pull the weeds and spreads the message to people who might not otherwise get it.

“It becomes OK that people don’t know all the information because me, from the Bike Project, I’m playing that role — ‘I want to make a difference but I don’t really know how to do it,’ “ Hallyburton said. “Ashilo, here’s somebody who is actually affected by this. It’s great having Ashilo there, to make it more fun for kids to pick.”

Nearly 500 pounds of goatheads were turned in on the first weekend of the project — much of it delivered in bicycle trailers and baskets. Hallyburton collected 45 pounds in an hour, he said.

Steve White, a BBP board member who started as a volunteer, began picking goatheads last year. He carries his tools on his mountain bike.

“Seeing the looks of frustration on the kids’ faces when they came in” motivated him, he said. “They think the bike is broken and they forget about it, and that’s the last thing we want to see. We want them to use their bikes as much as possible.”

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Puncturevine grows at ground level in a sprawling fashion. Chadd Cripe ccripe@idahostatesman.com

Here’s what the Boise Bicycle Project is asking you to do in July:

Pick goatheads. Make sure you can identify the puncturevine — it spreads across the ground, with those tell-tale goatheads likely still green this time of year. You’ll want to wear gloves, use a sharp gardening tool, bring heavy-duty garbage bags and be careful to avoid dropping the goatheads onto the ground, because removing them is the most important part. A carpet square or blanket placed under the plant can help. It’s best to pull the roots out of the ground but it’s OK to snip the plant at its base instead, Brabec said. The only risk in leaving the roots is that the plant could regenerate this season. If you don’t know where to find goatheads, BBP has a map at boisegoatheadfest.com/goathead of neighborhoods where its bicycle recipients have experienced goathead troubles.

If you pick goatheads earlier in the season before the seeds form, you can leave them on the ground.

“Once the seeds form, you absolutely have to get rid of it,” Brabec said. “Even if the seeds are green, they have the capacity to dry and fall off and produce viable seeds.”

Drop off your bags of goatheads. From noon to 6 p.m. Thursday-Saturday throughout July, you can deliver bags of goatheads to North End Organic Nursery, Woodland Empire or the Boise Bicycle Project. Everyone who delivers at least one bag will receive a beverage token for the Boise Goathead Fest. Prizes will be awarded at the event for the individual and team that collect the most pounds of goatheads. Woodland Empire actually is going to try using the goatheads to brew beer.

This is prime goathead-picking time, although late June might have been better with this year’s weather, Brabec said. It’s important to get them before the seeds dry and fall off. Each seed pod can have 20-30 seeds inside it.

“That’s what makes it such an invasive species,” Brabec said. “It has evolved to have this capacity to grab onto people or animals. It can spread by attaching a seed to anything that rolls over it, and thus it is ultra successful.”

The plant is thought to have been brought to Idaho from Europe through sheep, Brabec said.

It’s now such a part of our lives that a festival is named after it. Hallyburton expects the goathead-removal project and the Boise Goathead Fest to grow side by side.

He encourages volunteers to do some work outside their own neighborhoods, in the areas where bicycles are a vital source of transportation.

“We know that we live in a community where people are really willing to get their hands dirty to make a difference,” Hallyburton said. “... People are looking for these grass roots ways to make a difference. This is a perfect way to do that.”

Boise Goathead Fest details

Admission to the Aug. 3-4 festival at Cecil D. Andrus Park in Downtown Boise will be free. There’s a $5 suggested donation to join the bicycle parade on Aug. 4. New Belgium Brewing, which put on Tour de Fat for 16 years, remains involved as a sponsor and logistical supporter, Hallyburton said, but six local breweries will be on hand, too. The proceeds will be distributed to local bicycle-related non-profits, including Boise Bicycle Project, Treasure Valley Cycling Alliance, Southwest Idaho Mountain Biking Association, Dirt Dolls, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley and the Idaho Walk Bike Alliance. The parade donation can be earmarked to a particular non-profit, and the non-profits’ share of the festival’s revenue will be determined by how many parade participants choose them.

Hallyburton still is looking for more business ambassadors ($500 or $1,000) and individual ambassadors ($100) to fully fund the festival and distribute all event proceeds to the non-profits.

Radio Boise will present the launch party on Aug. 3 (4-10 p.m.) based around music. The Aug. 4 events (10 a.m.-5 p.m.) will be more bicycle-focused with music. One act requires the audience to use pedal power to keep the performance going.