"I invite you all to return two years from now and to walk with us all the way around Jerusalem," Hanoch Zoref, head forester of KKL-JNF's central region, told representatives from around the world. During a safari-style jeep ride through the hills and valleys of the outskirts of Jerusalem, the representatives were given a preliminary taste of how the 43- kilometer ring around the city - the future Metropolitan Park - will look upon completion.
The plan includes cycling routes, hiking trails, picnic areas, coffee shops; the current road that winds through the park will become a promenade closed to traffic and the entire area will be accessible to the disabled.
"The idea of the park is already working," said Tzoref, pointing to a family that was visiting one of the many natural springs in the area. "It's busy all the time here; people are coming in the middle of the week and also on holidays. We're not waiting for future development - people are already using the park right now."
KKL-JNF is not creating recreation areas from scratch but is rather upgrading the existing natural and historical sites to make them useable, accessible and inviting to the general public. Dry streambeds will be rehabilitated so that they can once again support flora and fauna; the numerous springs in the area will be cleaned and restored; existing forests will be tended and orchards consisting of native Israeli fruit trees will be planted, developed and/or expanded. The park will extend over 1,500 hectares of land, incorporating the northwestern Arazim valley near Mevasseret Zion, Motza valley to the west, Refaim valley in the south near Gilo and the northeastern HaTsofim valley adjacent to French Hill.
Naomi Tsur, Jerusalem's deputy mayor, told the KKL-JNF global delegation. "We are promoting a genuine message of sustainable development for Jerusalem which is absolutely essential for the city." Speaking in the Arazim Valley, which will be one of the five major recreational sites on the planned route, she explained that the new municipal government under the leadership of Mayor Nir Barkat is dedicated to the creation of green spaces in and around Jerusalem.
Previous administrations, she said, focused on addressing the city's housing demand and supply - that is, more inhabitants and more neighborhoods. The current administration is attempting instead, to create the demand - that is, attract residents through the parks and recreational areas such as the Jerusalem Metropolitan ring. In what Tsur refers to as "a historical move for Jerusalem," the municipality last week submitted a new city plan - one that incorporates this green mandate. "We, the City of Jerusalem, want to work with you, KKL-JNF, and with any other forces that make the city more sustainable."
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