Two gazelles rest at the newly opened Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park.
(photo credit: JERUSALEM MUNICIPALITY)
A cross section of Jerusalem families enthusiastically gathered in the capital on a sunny, if a bit chilly, Monday afternoon, to attend the festive grand opening of Gazelle Valley Urban Wildlife Park, the nation’s first urban nature reserve.
As hundreds of carefree children ate cotton candy with the oversized Holyland apartment complex in the background, many parents praised Mayor Nir Barkat for not relenting to developers in ensuring the area would not become another development.
“I think this is very exciting because the park represents a big win for the public against real estate developers,” said Rutie Guter-Elazer, as her five-year-old daughter Naama took in the undisturbed 25 hectares of brush located off Pat junction.
“You can see by all the people who came here today that we’re voting with our feet,” she added, pointing to the thousands in attendance, “that there is a need and a wish for green in the city.”
Indeed, praise of the Jerusalem Municipality’s legal victory over wealthy developers following a 20-year battle over Gazelle Valley’s sought-after land was a common refrain voiced by many of the parents and grandparents in attendance.
“This is a very good beginning because the oligarchs wanted to build here, but now it’s a park,” said Ze’ev Sharon, as he took in the sights with his four-year-old and six-year-old granddaughters.
“Look at all the people,” he continued.
“They love it because they can take their children and grandchildren here.”
Noting the dearth of open areas in the city, Oren Yagel, who brought his three-year-old and seven-month-old sons to the park, echoed Sharon’s sentiments.
“It’s about time the city of Jerusalem gave us a decent park where we can hang out with our kids in the afternoon,” he said. “It’s a very nice combination of nature and the city, and I hope they will have more events for families.”
Meanwhile, as Amy Sorensen stood with her 2-year-old son Nataniel near a man-made pond, she noted the diversity of families in attendance.
“I saw a lot of haredim, Arabs, Ethiopians, Russians and secular people,” she said. “It’s a really great mix of people and has the feel of Jerusalem because it’s such a complex and [divided] city, where people are kind of secluded from each other. But here everyone can enjoy the nature together.”
Featuring five ponds, two streams, bird-watching areas, a man-made island accessible by wooden bridges, and dozens of wild gazelles roaming free, the park cost NIS 90 million, according to Barkat, who was in attendance with President Reuven Rivlin’s wife, Nehama.
While most of the money was raised by the Jerusalem Foundation, he said NIS 22m. came from the municipal budget.
“Gazelle Valley is one of the biggest and most important Jerusalem projects in recent years, representing, above all, community involvement in the city and the power of joint brainstorming and planning by city hall and residents,” he said.
The park will remain open to the public free of charge, seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until sunset.