Following the declaration made by UNESCO recognizing Ramat Menashe Park as the first biosphere reserve in Israel, KKL JNF organized a family outing for the Sukkot holiday to the park’s various sites, which were developed with contributions from Friends of KKL JNF in Switzerland and in other countries. The park covers an area of 84,000 dunams and includes forests, nature reserves, streams, springs, agricultural areas, pastures and six rural communities.
A biosphere is an area where the ecosystem is protected while taking the needs of the population into consideration. All stages of planning, construction and development in the area are approached with a sense of responsibility toward the environment and coordination between the different authorities, among them KKL JNF. A defined core area is left undisturbed, with no human activity, and all the involved parties are committed to maintaining a balance between the preservation of the natural resources and the economic development of the area.
KKL JNF has paved a 27 km road in the park, which passes forests, waterways and open spaces. Many recreation areas have been constructed in the park, including picnic areas and scenic spots, with the support of friends of KKL JNF throughout the world. Accessible footpaths have been paved, along with cycling trails and roads for private cars and ATVs. Ramat Menashe used to be covered with Tabor Oak forests, which disappeared over the years, and KKL JNF has recently been reviving them by planting acorns.
The family outing focused on the area of Nahal Gehar, which is a tributary of Nahal Hashofet and is known for its many gray elms, which are rare in Israel. In winter and spring, the area is covered with flowers of many colors including cyclamens, anemones, ranunculus, narcissus and orchids, and although there are no wildflowers this time of year, the area is very green and lush with a variety of trees including pine, cypress, eucalyptus, Judas trees and many others.
All along the route, hikers heard fascinating information from Alon Guter, the guide. His explanations were interspersed with many stories and legends about flora and fauna. For example, how did the caper, the tzalaf, get its name? The answer is that this plant grows in cracks between rocks, like a sniper, a tzalaf, who hides between rocks. And what is the meaning of Gehar? It means crevice. The more romantic members of the group were impressed by the tale of the oak that fell in love with the pistachio, which enraged the sarsaparilla. In a fit of jealous rage, the sarsaparilla wrapped herself around the oak, and since then, you can see her bound around its branches.
As the hikers walked along the ancient Roman road and heard historical information, Tamar Shalem, a retired teacher from Holon, remarked that after many years in the classroom, she knows that the best way to learn about nature, geography, biology and history is simply to go outside and look around. In this case, the teacher was in fact the best student in the group and knew the answers to all of the guide’s questions. Her husband, Shimon, said that they go on a lot of KKL JNF hikes. “Because of KKL JNF,” he said, “we get to all the special spots we would never get to on our own. Until today I didn’t even know that Ramat Menashe was declared a biospheric park. On every outing we always learn something new.”
Devora Nahum from Herzliya said that the KKL JNF guides are one of the main factors that turn the outings into memorable experiences. “We have been hiking with KKL JNF for many years,” she said, “and every time, we are pleased to find out once again that the guides are sincere and inspire a connection between the people and the places. KKL JNF outings are all about nature.”
In the shade of the carob trees, the group learned about carob seeds, which are called carats and are the basis for the ancient weight for measuring gold and diamonds. They say that if you line up the seeds along the length of one’s foot, you will get your shoe size. Some of the children collected carob seeds to check it out. The guide said that a margin of error up to ten percent is acceptable.
The forest has not been harmed by fire in recent years, but one can see where it has been harmed by man. The hikers were especially dismayed to see two ancient eucalyptus trees with broad trunks that looked like someone had started felling them, presumably for profit. The signs of the saw were very visible on the trunks. Fortunately, the vandals did not finish their work, and the trees were still standing tall and proud.
One cannot help but mention that the day of the hike was also the day Gilad Schalit, the captive soldier, was released and returned to his people. As they walked in the pastoral landscapes, participants on the hike made sure to get frequent updates from news broadcasts. That’s how it is in Israel. Even in the depths of the forest, one cannot really disconnect from reality.
The new biosphere reserve has raised many questions. What do you do when farmers spray fields without consulting the environmental agencies? What happens when an army tent camp is set up in the middle of the core area, which is supposed to be undisturbed? How do you deal with the effects of livestock on the vegetation? For these and many other questions, there are no unequivocal answers, but it is good that there are responsible agencies dealing with these issues, examining them thoroughly and seeking a balance between the various needs. The understanding that one must protect nature and ensure that economic development be undertaken with consideration for the environment gives us hope that Ramat Menashe, an enchanting region and one of Israel’s most beautiful, will stay that way for future generations.
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