(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
Approximately one million holiday vacationers visited KKL-JNF parks and forests over the recent Sukkot holiday, taking advantage of the pleasant weather and the many and diverse activities KKL-JNF organized for the general public. The sense of optimism and joy that Israel has been experiencing since Gilad Shalit was released from captivity encouraged people to go out to nature and celebrate freedom.
Most popular sites included: In the north - Hula Agamon Park, Beit Keshet Forest, Ofer Forest, Biriya Forest, Admit Park, Goren Park and Ramot Menashe Park. In the central region: Ben Shemen Forest, Canada Park, and British Park. In the Jerusalem mountains: Aminadav Forest and the Sataf Springs. In the south – Malachim Forest, Lahav Forest, Yatir Forest, Golda Park and Yeruham Park. All these sites were developed and are maintained thanks to the support of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.
Hula Agamon Park is a favorite Israeli nature site at any time of the year, but it is especially so in the fall, when the cranes which have made Hula Lake their home return from Eastern Europe. In honor of this special occasion and the Sukkot holiday, KKL-JNF organized a number of activities related to the Hula, which were led by KKL-JNF's National Service volunteers. The event took place on Sunday, October 16, and was concluded by a performance of The Painter and the Bird, about a colorful painted bird in a picture sold to a wealthy man, who escapes from the picture and makes her way back to the painter who created her.
The activities took place in an area near the guest center that is shaded by giant eucalyptus trees. On almost every day of the holiday, there were so many people at the Hula that Israel radio had to announce that the park was full and could not receive additional visitors. Activities included a bingo game related to the Hula Lake, learning about how, where and when birds migrate, how and why the original swampy area was drained by KKL-JNF in the 1950s and re-flooded in the 1990s, ecology, and of course, workshops related to cranes. In addition, children made beautiful sukkah decorations using recycled materials.
Of course, the main attraction of the Hula is the birds that make this site a birdwatcher's paradise. Hula Lake Park is developed and maintained thanks to the support of friends of KKL-JNF from Australia, Canada, Germany, Israel, Latin America, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States, among others.
This was the second visit to the Hula for Itamar and Ayala Lavi-Artom from Tel-Aviv: "Our children absolutely love being here, it was so fortunate that we had binoculars with us to see the birds with. We're spending three days here in the north for our holiday vacation, and we had no idea that KKL-JNF had organized activities for the children. It was a wonderful surprise that really made our day!"
Itzik Ben Dor, Hula Park supervisor, explained about the bird migration and how the delicate balance between the birds, nature, local farmers and visitors to the park is maintained: "By now, most of the storks have left us, although there are still a few here and there. The pelicans are all still here and so are the ducks. They catch fish like carp and St. Peter's fish that make their way to the Hula from local fish breeding pools.
"The cranes are of course one of our main attractions. They have been passing over Israel on their migration to and from Eastern Europe ever since ancient times, and in fact, they are mentioned a couple times in the Bible. In Jeremiah 8:7 it says, 'The stork in the heaven knows her appointed times, and the turtledove, swallow and the crane observe the time of their coming.' Recently, many of them began spending the winter in the Hula instead of flying to Africa. What happened is that in 1997, the price of cotton dropped, and local farmers started planting crops like corn and peanuts, which cranes love. In order to keep the cranes away from the crops, the farmers, KKL-JNF, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and governmental agencies created a fund to feed the cranes in Hula Park. In 2002, when I first started working as a Hula Park supervisor, about 2,000 cranes spent the winter here, but now, 25,000-30,000 cranes enjoy free meals every day until spring.
"Tuesday, October 18 is Access Israel Day in the Hula for the physically challenged. It's especially exciting for us this year, because the Hula Park is being declared a world accessibility site, which means that everything from the paths and bridges to the restrooms are accessible for people with physical limitations. For example, the Cranes Observation Lookout, which was built in 2000 with the help of friends of KKL-JNF from Germany, is accessible to everyone. We still have some work to do on a few more Hula sites to make them accessible, and once we do, Hula Park will be awarded the status of a world accessibility site.
"Without the people from all over the world who support us, we could never have made Hula Agamon Park into what it is today. If any of our supporters are reading this, I would like to take the opportunity to invite them to come visit us and see the beautiful sites they have helped us develop in these magical surroundings," Itzik concluded.
We met Igor and a couple of his friends by the Pelicans Observation Lookout: "We come from Russia, just like a lot of these birds. Israel is an amazing country, there are such diverse landscapes. You can drive to the desert and see scenery that reminds you of pictures of the moon, or be in this water wonderland here. It's not surprising that the cranes decided to spend the winter here."
Dr. Omri Boneh, KKL-JNF Northern Region director, spoke with us about future projects planned for Hula Park: "We are in the midst of positioning the Hula bird ringing station as the number one station in Israel in terms of the number of birds ringed and the number of visitors per annum. We are also building a floating bird observation platform that will be situated in the southern part of the park and will allow bird watchers to get close to the birds' natural habitats without disturbing them. One of our most ambitious projects is building a new state-of-the-art visitors center, which will greatly improve our ability to educate people about the Hula ecosystem, bird migration and protecting the environment.
"As Itzik said, everything we have accomplished here is with the help of our friends from many different countries, and we look forward to their support for our current projects. Hula Agamon Park is a very unique site, and the number of people – and cranes - visiting us is constantly growing. It's a paradise for birds and people, and we want to keep it that way."
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