There are people, generally from less mountainous areas of the country, who do not usually associate Jerusalem with cycling. They would do well to think again.
Jerusalem Park offers all sorts of possibilities for visitors looking to hike, cycle or just take in some bucolic vibes. The park, in fact, comprises four individual green expanses – Tzofim River Park, Arazim Valley Park, Motza Valley Park and Refaim River Park.
With a combined area of some 3,700 acres, it is the largest park in the country.
It forms a verdant perimeter around Jerusalem and, in places, reaches into the city as well. Jerusalem Park contains forested areas, orchards, archeological remains, springs, picnic spots, bicycle paths and routes for mountain bikes and road bikes, as well as plenty of parking facilities in the vicinity.
As Jerusalem Development Company (JDC) Deputy CEO Anat Tzur explains, the thinking behind the metropolitan park is very much a matter of providing Jerusalemites, as well as visitors to the city from around the country and abroad, with an unbroken pastoral experience.
“Tzofim River Park goes from French Hill Junction to the Veterinarian Service station, and then Jerusalem Park goes straight on, in an unbroken link, to Arazim Valley Park near Lifta, and then straight on to Motza Valley Park and then to Refaim River Park – all the area south of the zoo – through the Aminadav Forest, the slopes below Moshav Ora and Ein Lavan and the zoo area,” she says. “There is also a continuous stretch that leads to the Mesila Park [next to the German Colony].”
The latter has a comfortable cycle path that leads past the Malha area and alongside Talpiot and the German Colony as far as Derech Beit Lehem. It is the biking facilities, says Tzur, that act as the fulcrum for the entire green sequence of Jerusalem Park.
“The link between all the component parts of the park is a 42 km. peripheral bike trail,” she explains, pulling out an enormous map that shows stretches of the trail that have been tarmacked and are user-friendly for mountain and road cyclists alike, other parts that are under construction, and still more that are in the planning stage.
While road cyclists may not as yet be able to complete the full 42 km. round trip with ease, their mountain bike counterparts can take in all the scenic beauty – especially at this gloriously blossoming and blooming time of year – as they merrily pedal their way around the western side of the city. “The complete bike route will be ready by the end of 2015,” says Tzur.
Despite Jerusalem’s generally hilly terrain, most of the bike route is a comfortable level ride and is eminently suitable for cyclists of all fitness levels. The Arazim section runs parallel to Nahal Sorek, overlooking the village of Lifta, the Ramot Forest and the vineyards along the valley floor. It ends near the Golda Meir Interchange at a large asphalt clearing that also offers a convenient entry spot to Jerusalem Park, with parking facilities.
From there, the trail continues through to Telem Springs towards the Beit Zayit dam, passing under Route 1. The path is not paved yet, and for the next 4 km. or so to the dam, cyclists have to share the route with passing motorized traffic.
If you fancy some time out from your cycling trip, the JDC is in the final stages of building all sorts of outdoor playing facilities, such as checkers and hopscotch next to Telem Springs, and there are more game features being developed near the Crusader Fortress in Arazim Valley.
“The ecological, geographic and geomorphological aspects of Jerusalem Park are an essential part of the planning,” continues Tzur. “The idea behind the park was to provide a quality solution that did not yet exist in Jerusalem with regard to metropolitan parks. The JDC entered this project with the idea that urban quality of life is one of the most important factors in keeping the young population in the city.”
There is more to Jerusalem Park than just the ability to get around the continuous green stretch on two wheels.
“We have invested in renovating springs and terracing,” says Tzur. “We have built picnic areas and walking paths and play facilities.
And we are currently developing all kinds of things in Refaim River Park, with walking trails, parking facilities, play areas and washrooms. And we recently finished a lovely promenade in Motza Valley Park.”
All told, the Jerusalem Park project will cost around NIS 150 million, with the bulk of the funding coming from the Ministry for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, the Municipality of Jerusalem, the Israel Ministry of Tourism and the Jewish National Fund.
“Jerusalem Park is not only for Jerusalemites, it is for all visitors to the city,” says Tzur.
“We are trying to bring all kinds of tourism to Jerusalem, and there are now many green routes in and around the city.”
So now, in addition to the many unique features that Jerusalem has to offer – the Old City, Israel Museum, historic battlegrounds, gourmet wining, dining, shopping, and much more – tourists looking for some fresh air, bucolic pleasures and some physical exercise can add that into their Jerusalem vacation equation.
And visitors don’t have to lug their own wheels to Jerusalem. There are bicycles for rent at the First Station compound, and more bicycle rental facilities are in the pipeline.
For more information: www.itraveljerusalem.com This article was made possible with the help of the Israel Ministry of Tourism (www.goisrael.gov.il and www.goisrael.com).