(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Turtle Bridge, which spans the Alexander River in Italy Park, has been inaugurated, after years of investment in river reclamation and site development. This now delightful spot comprises an extensive lawn, well-tended gardens, children’s play equipment and an observation platform overlooking the riverside views. An attractive promenade leads to Italy Park, another enchanted riverbank beauty spot, established with donations from Friends of KKL-JNF in Italy.
The project was planned and executed by the Sharon River Drainage Authority, with KKL-JNF as its partner in both funding and implementation. Other partners include Emek Hefer Regional Council, the Ministry for Environmental Protection, the Ministry of Agriculture and numerous additional bodies that have contributed to the joint effort.
The star attraction in this beautiful and well cared for park is, of course, the water turtles, which can easily be observed peeping out of the river, climbing on to the rocks for a sunbath or frolicking together amid clouds of spray. These soft-shelled turtles can grow up to a meter long, and can weigh up to fifty kilograms. As the rivers of the coastal plain became polluted, the number of these turtles in Israel dwindled greatly, and the Alexander River is now the main habitat for most of the local turtle population. The river is also home to silurids (a type of catfish), coypus and a wide variety of water fowl.
Nissim Almon, Director General of the Sharon Drainage Authority, describes the Turtle Bridge as a tourist attraction that draws visitors from all over the country. “KKL-JNF is a very important partner in our river reclamation projects both here and at other sites,” he said. “Together we find ways to achieve a sensible balance between development needs and environmental protection, so as to conserve nature’s gifts for future generations.”
Those of us who remember Nahal Alexander as it was just over a decade ago, before reclamation activities got underway, will find it hard to credit the changes that have taken place. This river, which flows for 32 kilometers from Nablus until it reaches the Mediterranean Sea, was notorious for many years for the state of neglect and pollution into which it had declined before the rehabilitation process begun. Now convenient footpaths and cycle paths have been constructed along its banks, thousand of trees – including fruit trees – have been planted and cool corners have been created, where visitors can sit down and rest. Well-tended lawns provide a venue for recreation and picnics, there are pleasant areas of woodland and the site is equipped with explanatory signposts that provide interesting information on the river and its environs. So successful has this reclamation project been that it has even won an international prize for river rehabilitation.
Rani Idan, Head of Emek Hefer Regional Council and Chairman of the Drainage Authority, recalled how as a boy, fifty years ago, he used to swim in the river. “But with time the waterway turned into a sewage canal,” he said sadly. “Now, thanks to KKL-JNF and other organizations that have collaborated with us, we have managed to launch a project that can serve as a shining example of successful river reclamation,” he concluded.
Wild animals have returned to populate the area, and a wealth of vegetation adds shades of green to the pastoral scene, as thousands of visitors flock to the parks along the riverbank at weekends and holiday time.
According to Yehiel Cohen
, Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Central Region,
work at Nahal Alexander is not yet complete. Future plans include
upgrading the park, a footpath along the river’s southern bank to
complement the existing trail and a stage for events in Italy Park.
, the architect responsible for planning the project,
defined the Turtle Bridge as “my baby, born after a long gestation.” He
thanked the many partners who had contributed to the project’s success –
including the river’s inhabitants, the turtles themselves. As he
delivered his address, a variety of scenes could be observed unfolding
behind him: young families could be seen strolling with their children,
while a number of engaged couples were having their photos taken for
their wedding albums. “How do we know when a project is a success?”
asked Brandeis with a broad smile. “When every evening at least three
couples come along to have their wedding photos taken – it’s a success,”
he explained. Nonetheless, according to Brandeis there are still many
challenges to be faced as the river undergoes rehabilitation. Foremost
among them are improving the quality of the water and restoring the
ecological system. Gilad Erdan
, the Minister for Environmental Protection, concluded the
speeches at the inauguration ceremony. He told his listeners: “We want
to initiate an environmental revolution, in which river reclamation will
play a major role. We ourselves, with our own hands, have turned
Israel’s rivers into environmental black spots. Now it is up to us to
reverse the process and turn them back into beautiful green public
resources. The reclamation of Nahal Alexander is a flagship project of
which we can all be proud.”
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