(photo credit: kkl)
Bringing people and Nature together is one of KKL-JNF’s most important tasks. The Nahal Shomriya cycling route around Ofakim, which was inaugurated this week, is an outstanding example of successful cooperation between KKL-JNF, other organizations and local residents. David Kurzfeld
Cycling enthusiasts in the southern town of Ofakim, who can now enjoy the use of a convenient trail that takes them through magnificent countryside and woodland and along riverbanks to archeological sites and carpets of flowers, helped with the planning of this project, and even did some of the work themselves. The 60-centimeter-wide single route winds through the local green belt: the 1,500 dunam (approx 375 acres) of Ofakim Forest, adjacent to the town. On its way, the cycling route passes through Nahal Shomariya and Nahal Patish and performs a serpentine figure 8 among the local moshavim.
This route, which is 22 kilometers long, is suitable for cyclists at all levels, including families with children, and it is equipped throughout with signposts and explanatory signs, all provided by KKL-JNF. It was built with the help of contributions from KKL-JNF Canada, as part of the extensive aid that Friends of KKL-JNF in the USA, Canada, Australia and Europe have provided for the development of the Negev in general and of Ofakim in particular. Other partners in the project are Ofakim Municipality, Akhuzat HaNegev (the local residents’ association), the Drainage Authority and Merhavim Regional Council.
Itzik Krispel, president of the local residents’ association, believes that the inauguration of the path is an important landmark for the town. “The trail has become a tourist attraction that draws visitors and contributes to Ofakim’s development, and to its image, too. Cycling is becoming more and more popular all over Israel, and we’re very happy to join in the fun,” he said.
Of the construction process, Krispel says: “Every Friday local people came to work at the site alongside KKL-JNF workers, and it proved a great experience for both sides. Throughout our shared task KKL-JNF’s door was always open to us, and they were always ready to listen to any requests we might have. I’m sure we’ll go on to develop other projects together.”
Danny Ben David, a KKL-JNF forester in southern Israel, likewise welcomes the cooperation with the local community: “Because they helped to build it, the local people now feel that this path truly belongs to them. They won’t just enjoy it; they will also maintain and care for it. For me personally, this was an opportunity to combine my job with my love of cycling, while at the same time contributing to the quality of life in Ofakim, where I grew up.”
At the inauguration ceremony the representatives signed the Community Forest Covenant, under which all parties concerned undertake to work together to maintain and conserve the forest. In the course of the ceremony the Chairman of Ofakim’s Government-Appointed Committee, Zvi Greengold, said, “This trail has put Ofakim on the cycling map. We’re on the map, and not just where cycling is concerned. KKL-JNF is our loyal partner, and we’ll continue to look after the forest together.”
Ami Uliel, Director of KKL-JNF’s southern region: “The declaration of the establishment of the community forest is a sign that there are wonderful people in Ofakim. The local residents are true partners in this project.”
Nehemia Shahaf, Director-General of the Besor-Shikma Drainage Authority: “The river is a natural beauty spot, with water, trees, flowers and magnificent views. In recent years, together with KKL-JNF, we’ve been establishing trails that allow hikers, cyclists and visitors to enjoy the beauty of the rivers.”
Ilanna Itta, Ofakim Municipality’s Director of Sport: “Cycling has become one of the most popular sports in Israel, and I am proud that a similar development has taken place here. It’s very important to us to encourage the sport in Ofakim, and, thanks to the new trail, we shall now be able to hold cycling meets and competitions and found a cycling club.”
Talila Livshitz, of KKL-JNF’s Southern Region, explains that a close connection with the community brings with it a number important advantages: an understanding of the needs of local residents enables their demands to be met; participation in the work encourages local people to go out and enjoy the forest; and, no less important – involving local people in both the vision and the actual development strengthens their sense of belonging to the point that they become the forest’s guardians. “We cleared away tens of tons of rubbish all along the cycle route,” says Livshitz. “We rehabilitated areas where illegal quarrying had taken place, we planted trees and woodland. Community and educational activities will ensure that all this will be conserved in the future, too.”
Among the many cyclists present at the inauguration ceremony a group of policemen, cycling enthusiasts all, stood out prominently. The Israel Police cycling championship is scheduled to take place on the new track at Passover and they had come to check things out. The championship will form part of the Ofakim cycle race, an event initiated by the local municipality that will be held this year for the first time, with some 500 competitors taking part.
, an experienced
cyclist from Ofakim, had come along to ride together with his
13-year-old son Ido. “I’ve been cycling for twenty years, and it’s the
thing I enjoy most,” he told us. “Now that they’ve made us a track just
next door, it’s a wonderful thing for us.”
His son Ido
added: “I like
cycling with Dad, and without him, too. For me riding my bike is not
just a hobby, it’s also my means of transport and it helps me to get
from place to place.”Eli Gad
, an Ofakim resident who
lost his arm in a work accident, says that before the accident he was a
keen cyclist, but after his injury he was forced to give it up.
However, he has recently returned to cycling, and his love for it has
been rekindled. “Thanks to the track opened by KKL-JNF I can go cycling
again, too. The opportunity to ride a bike just like everyone else
means everything to me. I hope that other people with disabilities will
see me and realize that everyone can overcome obstacles and do anything
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