Darren Miller held tight several leashes as he, his wife Barbara and their three dogs stood under the hot rising sun on the Murrells Inlet boardwalk, waiting on the goats.
The thing that makes Murrells Inlet’s Goat Island unique is self-explanatory. It’s the little island where the goats live during the spring and summer. But the island, which sets within a stone’s throw of the boardwalk, isn’t immune to hurricanes and storm surges.
When a big ‘cane is coming, the goats need to get off. They’re taken to a farm on Highway 707 for safekeeping.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., two boats headed out to the island, where the goats brayed and bawled and ran frantically in a futile effort to escape capture.
A crowd of dozens of people – easily outnumbering the goats – stood on the boardwalk to watch. Many of them took pictures and video.
“They put them out there as to best of my knowledge in the early 70s because they found out someone was growing pot out there,” said Miller, who moved to Murrells Inlet from New Jersey in 1980. “It’s always interesting to see if one of them gets away.”
Miller said he’s spent years bringing his 9-year-old Husky named Loki to watch as the goats are removed from the island. Loki spent his puppy years on a farm, Miller said, speculating that the rural environment helped foster his dog’s fascination with the animals.
“He absolutely loves coming down here,” Miller said. “We come at night and walk, and he’ll stand on that dock down there and watch the goats for as long as we’ll let him.”
Al Hitchcock, who owns the goats and is a part-owner of Drunken Jack’s, said the goats have been on the island for about 35 years. As for the rumors that he put them there to get rid of some illicit weed, Hitchcock said with sly smile, “that rumor might be true.”
The goats are a staple of the inlet, and the official explanation nowadays is that they were put there to control the underbrush. The goats keep the weeds down, and also get kitchen leftovers from Hitchcock’s restaurant.
“We give them leftover hushpuppies and lettuce and tomatoes, but mainly they have grain out there that they eat too,” said Drunken Jack’s server Jamie Moss. “And the vegetation from the island itself, they keep the underbrush down, so they’re eating a lot of that. And then we have running water that kind of constantly flows over there as well, so they don’t have to worry about drinking salt water.”
Hitchcock chooses about seven goats each year, Moss added. They’re put on the island in mid-April and taken off in late November.
“People’s curious about them once they get here,” Hitchcock said. “They come back year after year to see the goats. If they weren’t out there, we’d definitely get questions why they weren’t there.”
Moss said the goats are a great attraction for families with kids. “So it’s a good conversation piece and it’s good for the island.”