(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
"There could be a no more perfect time of year for inaugurating new bicycle paths in Ben Shemen Forest, an area famous in the past for its superior olive oil, than the Hanukah holiday." KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stentzler was speaking on Monday, December 26, at the dedication ceremony of the new bicycle trails on a pristine winter day. "The bicycle trails created by KKL-JNF pass by a number of oil presses that have been dated to the Second Temple period and doubtless provided olive oil for the temple.
"The Herzl track was named for Binyamin Ze'ev Herzl, Israel's founding father, and it passes by the first trees KKL-JNF planted here in 1907 in Herzl's honor. For the last four years, creating bicycle trails has been at the top of KKL-JNF's priority list," Stenzler continued. "We have blazed trails in the Golan Heights, around the Kinneret, and at Israel's southernmost tip in Eilat. This trail connects with France Adulam Park, Haruvim Forest, Jerusalem and the Coastal Plain. Have a happy holiday, drive carefully, and I look forward to seeing more and more cyclists in Israel's forests and open spaces," Stenzler concluded.
The ceremony was emceed by KKL-JNF Central Division Director Gilad Mastai, who thanked everyone who took part in creating the bicycle paths, from the planning stages through the actual physical labor. He noted that "Ben Shemen Forest borders on the city of Modi'im, and KKL-JNF shares a common vision with the Modi'im municipality of bringing the city and forest closer."
Modi'in Deputy Mayor Michal Parpari agreed: "Ben Shemen Forest is an integral part of our city, and we love and enjoy it. KKL-JNF is worthy of every superlative imaginable in praise of what is has accomplished in our region over the past few years. I look forward to more joyous events of this kind and to many more such bonds between man and nature."
Meirav Lazar spoke on behalf of the Modi'im Region Tourist Bureau: "Ben Shemen Forest comprises 30,000 of our region's total of 170,000 dunams. It is the green lung of Israel's central region and will now become the center of bicycle tourism in this area. KKL-JNF has been promoting bike riding and bicycle trails long before it became a trend. I have no doubt that the new trails will help make our region more accessible for tourists from Israel and abroad."
"The bicycle trails we are inaugurating today join many other KKL-JNF trails, including the very popular Tel-Aviv – Jerusalem trail we inaugurated here about a year ago," said Yehiel Cohen, KKL-JNF Central Region Deputy Director. "A successful bike trail depends on a combination of good planning and its precise implementation in the field, for which I would like to thank everyone involved. Seeing this trail completed towards the end of 2011, just as we planned, gives us lot of motivation for the future."
KKL-JNF Ben Shemen Forester Haggai Yablovitch told the audience about what goes into creating a bicycle trail: "It might seem simple, but it's actually quite complicated. We started planning these trails three years ago. It seemed impossible due to the size of the area and the fact that the forest and the surrounding area serve so many different purposes, from grazing to firing areas for the army. We set goals, made plans and got busy working. Volunteers helped us, but most of the work was done by KKL-JNF's dedicated workers. I am proud to say that there are now 32 new kilometers of bicycle trails in Ben Shemen, the longest bike trail in any KKL-JNF forest. We're hoping to prepare another 30 kilometers of trails over 2012. I would like to take this opportunity to call on anyone for whom ecology and cycling is important, whether in Israel or abroad, to help us accomplish our goal by earmarking donations to KKL-JNF for this project."
The ceremony, which was accompanied by the lovely and spirited singing of the singer Hila Ben David, concluded with the lighting of the Hanukah menorah by Rabbi Benny Lau, the rabbi of Modi'in. The honored guests unveiled the dedicatory plaque, and the bike riders were soon on their way.
Otto Friedman, who planned the trail along with Doron Amitz, a professional cyclist who won last year's Ofakim biking competition, was all smiles. "The challenge of creating a bike trail in Ben Shemen was integrating it with the other activities that people come to Ben Shemen for. We enjoyed excellent cooperation with KKL-JNF and its employees."
Doron Amitz added: "There were a lot of improvised, unofficial bike trails running through Ben Shemen Forest before we began. The challenge was to create something better, so that bikers would prefer it to the trails they had grown used to. I'm pretty sure we were successful in meeting our goal."
Shachar Chinski from Yokne'am wanted to be one of the first cyclists to try out the new trail: "I've been riding for seven years and recently participated in a
KKL-JNF biking event at Biriya Forest in the north. Although I live in the north, it's only a forty minute drive to get here when you take Highway 6. I read about today's event in KKL-JNF's e-yarok newsletter and decided that this was a great opportunity to do some riding in a region I'm not so familiar with. Of course I'll be doing the longer 24 kilometer route, that's what I was looking forward to!"
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