BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
---- — BUCKLEY — Travelers along M-37 in Buckley often do double-takes as they pass by a herd of goats frolicking and sunning themselves on a “goat walk” that towers 13 feet in the air.
The elevated walk is part of “Kenny’s Park,” the star attraction at Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch. The park is home to several pygmy goats with names like Mae, Fiona and Bianca, and a giant playground structure built for, well, kids.
“Goats love to climb, so if you give them something to climb, they’ll use it,” said Debbie Pahl, manager of the Pumpkin Patch, a 27-acre family agritourism destination.
The business started out about 13 or 14 years ago as a sideline on the Pahl family's nearby cattle and grain farm. Then Dave Pahl bought what is now Pahl’s Country Store near downtown Buckley and moved Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch next door. The venue continues to grow every year.
Besides the goat park, attractions include straw and corn mazes, tractor-drawn “barrel-train” rides, farm animal viewing and, of course, pumpkins and gourds. The store and a concessions stand offer up everything from cider and doughnuts to pie and Moomer’s ice cream.
But the goats remain a favorite of visiting families and schoolchildren, who flock to the venue by the hundreds on busy fall weekends.
"They're friendly, and the little goats are kind of frolicky," said Pahl, who added onto the park in 2012 with the “Little Kid Schoolhouse,” a goat shelter designed to resemble a miniature one-room schoolhouse.
Pahl's own affection for the curious creatures began as a teen.
"I had a goat when I was 16, and when we opened our Pumpkin Patch at our farm, we bought a billy goat from a neighbor,” he said. “He never was much of a pet. He kind of stayed away from people. He wasn’t confined, but he stayed up by the barn."
That goat was Kenny, a gray- and cream-colored pygmy with a long beard — the park’s namesake.
Pahl said Kenny's Park and goat walk are based on others he's seen in places like Stanton, New Era and South Lyon. He believes his is the largest goat walk in northern Michigan.
The 118-foot-long structure is supported by telephone poles and braces, and boasts a 13-foot-high bridge flanked by twin towers and an approach ramp.
Another walk, added this month, runs at right angles to the bridge and leads to a corn feeder operated from below by a pulley system. The feeder is one of a pair visitors can use to entice the goats across the bridge.
Pahl estimates he invested about $5,000 in the structure, including labor.
"There’s a lot of compound angles on that bridge so we used an experienced contractor,” he said.
Pahl’s Pumpkin Patch is open through Oct. 31, but visitors won’t find Kenny gamboling in his park. The goat died in 2012 at the ripe old age of 12.
His head is mounted in Pahl's Country Store, above a photo of him as he appeared in life.