The Lonesome Billy Goat of Cloudland Canyon

(photo by Jerry Wallace)

Meet Lonesome, the billy goat of the West Rim Loop.

The West Rim Loop trail of Cloudland Canyon State Park has been called one of the 10 best day hikes in America. It's an easy walk through beautiful woods with stunning views of the canyon. For those of us who live close enough to walk it often, a West Rim day is always a good day but a West Rim day with a glimpse of Lonesome is seriously red-letter.

Lonesome lives at a scenic overlook at the very beginning of the trail, or in any case that's where he shows himself. The spot has a good view down on Trenton and some nice sittable-onable boulders where people like to picnic. Up high like that, the air is clear and crisp and it usually smells like pine needles. But some days you smell that funky billy-goat smell and that's when you know that Lonesome is nearby. Look down the slope and you'll see him peeking back at you curiously, and if you bleat at him he will usually bleat back at you no matter how badly you speak Goat.

Lonesome doesn't always show. There are times he's so rare, you get to thinking of him as legendary. Then at other times he's fairly thick on the ground but those tend to be the days you forgot your camera. Thus the Dade Planet is delighted to have finally captured the goat for antiquity, just in time to offer readers a story that has nothing to do with contentious national elections.

One reason the sight of Lonesome pops out is that he doesn't really fit into the landscape. He is not a mountain goat but a regular domestic variety such as you would see in a pasture grazing with his brethren, maybe guarded by a Great Pyrenees. But he's not part of a herd, he's always alone. That's the other reason he stands out and it's how he got the nickname Lonesome.

And it's why this article is being written about him. Piqued by his solitude, The Dade Planet was impelled to investigate.

"We treat it like wildlife," said Scott Einberger, the managing ranger of Cloudland Canyon State Park. "It's ironic, because it's not a native species, but it's in the park and protected by law."

Einberger, who only came to the park in October 2015, says the goat was there before him and has been in residence at least a couple of years. He's seen the goat himself and park visitors have brought him pictures as well.

Einberger speculates Lonesome got away from a farm somewhere but says the park has no plans to return him to one. "It's doing no harm," he said. If the goat looked as if he were suffering, said Einberger, the park might try to find him a new home, but: "He seems to be doing well."

And that's what the Planet's CGC (chief goat consultant), Mary Hart Rigdon, thinks, too.

"He looks very healthy," she said. "He's not challenging anyone along the trail so he's obviously carved out a niche for himself there in the park and I think he looks quite happy where he is."

Mary Hart (right), who raises goats and makes artisanal goat cheeses at her Decimal Place dairy outside Atlanta, says Lonesome looks like a very shaggy Alpine who has been allowed to keep his horns. An Alpine is a domestic dairy goat, she says.

Mary Hart has a sizable herd of goats and they seem to be personable, social animals who enjoy each other's company (below), but she isn't worried that Lonesome might be,well, lonesome.

It's not so much that bachelorhood is a normal state in nature, she explained, as that in nature bachelors are not all that particular. When she kept all female goats, she said, a male deer began hanging around the farm, making up to the girls. Mary Hart imagines it will work the other way around for Lonesome.

"He's probably sidling up to the does," she said. "They may give him some funny looks but he will find himself some friends."

Meanwhile, said Mary Hart, native species or not, Lonesome is probably benefiting the park's ecology. "I think he's finding what he needs throughout the park and as long as everybody else respects who he is," she said, "I think he's probably doing a really good job of eating the privet and the poison ivy and keeping the lower story cleared out in the park."

#CloudlandCanyonStatePark #MaryHartRigdon

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