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Photo by: Tanya Sermer
Israelis take to nat'l parks for Independence Day
By SHARON UDASIN
04/26/2012
Some 300,000 Israelis visit state parks and heritage sites; Yarkon-Tel Afek park attracts most guests at 11,600 visitors.
 
With Mizrahi music blaring and barbecue smoke billowing from every side of Jerusalem’s central park, thousands of people gathered with family and friends for Independence Day celebrations in Sacher Park on Thursday.

Children happily swung tennis racquets, kicked soccer balls and played matkot, occasionally bopping their sisters and brothers on the heads with giant inflatable Israeli flag hammers. Trash and bottles from gatherings were strewn on the grass everywhere, with one family even using saran wrap tied from tree to tree to mark their territory.

Outside Jerusalem’s center and across the country, more than 300,000 visitors came to the country’s national parks and nature reserves on Thursday, according to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. The four most popular sites were Ashkelon National Park, Yarkon- Tel Afek National Park, Masada and Park Eshkol. About one-third of the travelers visited paid sites, while the rest parked their picnic tables and hiked through places that were free of charge, the INPA reported.

Yarkon-Tel Afek National Park had about 11,600 visitors while Ashkelon National Park had approximately 10,000, Masada 5,800 and Eshkol 5,000. Also quite popular were the Banyas Nature Reserve with about 4,000 people, and Caesarea National Park and Ein Gedi Nature Reserve with about 3,500 visitors, according to the INPA.

In honor of Independence Day, Castel National Park, Yehiam Fortress, the Tomb of Samuel and Apollonia all offered tours free of charge to visitors throughout the day, the INPA said.

“Usually on Independence Day the busiest sites are national parks and this is because on nature reserves it is forbidden to light fires and make barbecues,” said Uzi Barzilai, manager of the INPA’s public and community division, in a statement released by his office. “The main national parks filled up already by the early morning with thousands of revelers, and we were pleased to see that tens of thousands precisely chose hiking paths devoid of smoke, in nature reserves or in national parks in open spaces.”

The INPA assigned hundreds of workers to both its paid and unpaid sites throughout the day, in order to make sure that areas were as clean as possible and to prevent the spread of fires, and the events of the holiday passed without incident, according to Barzilai.

“Because this year Independence Day was marked on a Thursday, we could see tens of thousands of travelers just outside campgrounds, and they will likely continue to visit the reserves and the parks over the weekend,” he said.

Outside the jurisdiction of the INPA, other sites also reported huge numbers of visitors, with thousands visiting the Kishon River areas, for example, where the fishing harbor was full to capacity by noon, the Kishon River Authority reported.

“The Kishon River and the parks we opened at its banks constituted an attractive point to thousands of visitors celebrating Independence Day in nature,” said Sharon Nissim, CEO of the Kishon River Authority.

“It is our intention to expand the park downstream for the benefit of the public.”

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