Girl oranges 88 224.
(photo credit: Wendy Blumfield)
When this writer asks her grandchildren what they want to do when the holidays roll around, Shvil Hatapuzim ("The Orange Path") is top of the list. Situated on Route 65 on the Caesarea-Afula highway near Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, this working citrus grove has been in the Gutman family since the time of Ottoman rule. The Gutmans came to Hadera from Russia with the Biluim Zionist movement in 1890. The family continued to farm for generations, and owned large citrus groves in an area that was once the center of Israel's agricultural production and where the air was always perfumed with the scent of orange blossoms and fruit.
However, after an agricultural slump, present owner Gadi Ben-Arzi (an eighth-generation sabra and son-in-law of the Gutman family), decided in 1997 to save the citrus grove by opening it to the public as an adventure playground. Working with his son Yoav, Ben-Arzi developed a wonderland of tree-lined walkways, climbing towers, and "omegas" - a special kind of swing that requires one to jump off a platform, catching onto a bar suspended on a horizontal rope. The force of the jump moves the bar down the length of the rope, which is hung on an incline, enabling the kid - or adult - to land on the ground.
Although a popular venue, the park never seems over-crowded. The trees reduce the noise level and adults can enjoy the activities, as well as children.
Families can be busy all day at a mini-golf course, a canal for kayaking, and a carpentry shop with real tools and equipment. A paddle pool and water-slide, succa-like "rain room" where water sprayed from the ceiling keeps the room at a rainforest-like atmosphere, and water sprayed from the tree-tops themselves provide visitors with welcome relief from the heat.
A picnic area and restaurant provide options for keeping the family fed and hydrated, and there are sufficient sitting areas where adults can rest between activities and park their belongings. At least one "old-timer" has been seen dozing on a hammock slung between two large, shady trees. The restaurant provides tables both outside and in the farm's original barn, which is cooled by fans and features bouncy toys for babies, a dollhouse and play shop - a child-size shop equipped with a serving counter, cash register and toy products.
The park is open year-round on Shabbat and holidays, except when it rains. Israel's citrus season extends from November to April, and since Shvil Hatapuzim is a working orange farm, times are set aside for families to join in the fruit-picking, in addition to the park's non-agricultural activities.
The park's versatility makes it ideal for school groups, holiday programs, educational projects and birthday parties, all coordinated by Yoav Ben-Arzi, who is not himself a farmer. The educational programs are interactive and give children an opportunity to explore the area and learn about the work in a citrus grove.
Ben-Arzi and his son share a vision of nature conservation. While so many kibbutzim and moshavim are selling their lands to developers who then build malls and high-density housing, Ben-Arzi and his family are working with the environment instead of against it. "Not one tree was uprooted for this project," Ben-Arzi - who grew up on Kibbutz Deganya - tells Metro. He explains that all the water used for the visitors' recreational activities is recycled and used to irrigate the grove.
"I'm over 70, but still a child," chuckles Ben-Arzi. "You never lose hope when you work with children." He explains that his childhood at Deganya prepared him to be independent and self-sufficient. "If we wanted a climbing tower or a tree house or a canoe, we had to make it ourselves," he remembers.
Unlike many play centers that feature inflatable plastic equipment, all of the activities at Shvil Hatapuzim are in harmony with the environment, designed aesthetically from wood and natural materials. The only plastic in sight is in the toddlers' play area, where soft mattresses, balls and tunnels provide safe fun for small children who are less coordinated than their big siblings.
Ben-Arzi says that safety is a priority. He and Yoav and a third manager, also a kibbutznik, design the park's activities, but they consult with engineers on the actual installation of the equipment and on safety standards.
For those who prefer outdoor life even in the heat, Shvil Hatapuzim is a great way to get the kids away from malls and computer games. The entire park is fenced off and the entrance is carefully guarded, so there is little fear of a small child wandering away. But the area is still large, and adults might need time and patience to find older children who have disappeared among the trees and climbing towers. Many grandparents can be seen frantically searching for shoes and articles of clothing as the loudspeakers announce closing time. With wet and dry activities - some requiring bare feet and others that are only safe while wearing shoes - belongings do get lost among the foliage. Parents are advised to take a change of clothing for their kids and to leave expensive sandals and sneakers at home.
If children can ever be heard crying at Shvil Hatapuzim, it's usually at the end of the day, when the park is closing and families reluctantly pack up to go. Even those who arrived early in the morning don't want to leave this orange grove adventure park.
Shvil Hatapuzim: www.shvil-hatapuzim.com; Tel: (04) 628-806/054-428-2884; Special projects: Yoav: 050-736-4540.