yom haatzmaut independence picnic .
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the country's national parks, hiking trails and open spaces each day over Pessah looking for a good place to have a family picnic. They unpack the food, eat a hearty meal, get up to go, but leave something behind - their trash.
This year, even more people have reportedly visited the country's natural sites because they chose to save money and not go abroad.
"You have to differentiate between the natural parks, hiking trails, closed reserves and the open spaces. The situation isn't that bad in the proper parks and on the trails, partly because people are more careful and partly because there are more inspectors to clean up after them. People aren't throwing trash on the side of the Banias, for instance," Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) deputy spokesman Omri Gal said Monday.
However, in the open spaces, such as alongside streams, on mountains or in the Machtesh, the situation is still not good, he acknowledged. Open spaces account for 90 percent of the area under NPA jurisdiction.
"When people pay to get into a national park or nature reserve, then psychologically they are more willing to keep it clean," said Hillel Glazman, who coordinates a lot of the NPA's clean-up efforts.
Gal added that if people were greeted by a clean park, then they were more likely to keep it clean.
Trash represents a serious pollution hazard and blight on the landscape. Snack bags, for example, don't biodegrade and thus remain until someone picks them up.
Glazman was cautiously optimistic about the public's changing habits.
"I see the beginning of a change. A small percentage of improvement," he said.
"Sometimes people will gather their garbage into a bag, but then they leave the bag there rather than taking it with them and then throwing it out at, say, the nearest gas station. That's part of what we are trying to inculcate now," he explained.
The NPA constantly focuses on kids to get them to conscientiously pick up after themselves. If the kids do it, then the parents follow, Gal said. The NPA also runs clean-up efforts with volunteer groups and the IDF, such as the recent "Clean Tent" competition in Eilat, in which 55 families participated.
The families had to follow a set of rules for keeping their tent and the area around it clean. The top three families received a year's free entrance to all of the NPA's sites.
"Ten years ago, NPA inspectors would have been handing out a lot more fines for littering. Nowadays, they are more apt to come with a garbage bag and educational material to try and reach out to the public and teach them a different way," Gal said.
Jewish National Fund (KKL) spokeswoman Lilach Raz said the public generally kept most of their sites clean, "but not all of them, and there is certainly room for improvement."
"We've seen people relearning how to keep the sites clean, but not everywhere," she said.