Nature and parks: Free market or free from the market?

Terra Incognita: Charging entrance fees to outsiders protects local quality of life.

By
November 9, 2010 21:22
4 minute read.

 
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Some of my best experiences here have been at the natural and man-made treasures around the country. The Arbel near Tiberias – that famous cliff of cliffs whose stark beauty and tremendous jagged edges brings awe, is one such place. So are Solomon’s Pools and Deir Mar Saba – both off limits due to their being in Palestinian Areas A and B, but nonetheless two of the most interesting man-made oddities, the latter a monastery that clings to a cliff and the former three giant pools that once were an integral part of Jerusalem’s water supply.

The barren desert at Khalasa, that ancient Nabatean settlement in the Negev, despite the fact that all its treasure was stolen over the years and its rocks were used to build Beersheba, nevertheless retains something special. Nebi Rubin, in the dunes near Palmahim beach, the supposed resting place of Reuven, son of Jacob, is a fascinating place. And what about all the ruined khans, the Turkish caravanserais or guest houses that mark the old 15th-century trade routes?

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But there are disappointing sites also. One is Ein Avdat, the great spring that lies a few kilometers from Sde Boker. Not only is the entrance fee expensive, but one is not permitted to swim. Why? Because it might harm the ecosystem. Suspiciously there is a man-made dam that harnesses the spring water. Did not the dam, built relatively recently, change the same ecosystem that now must be “maintained” by not touching it?

And what happened to the Arbel? Once upon a time people could drive up to a parking lot near the cliff and go look over it. Now one must pay. Why? What is being preserved at the cliff? Nothing. There are no ruins to restore, no archeological treasure that must be roped off. And yet now there is a price associated with seeing the cliffs up close.

The same may be in store for Montfort. This crusader fort is renowned as one of the most romantic archeological sites in the country. Perched on a spur of hillside overlooking a beautiful stream in the Galilee, it requires a 45-minute walk to get to. But now, according to plans displayed at the University of Haifa, there are thoughts of charging an entrance fee to the site and carving and paving a road to within a hundred meters or so of the fort.

THERE ARE, of course, reasons to charge entrance fees to parks and places that we have a national interest in preserving. Consider the story of Afula’s park. The town spent a great deal of money creating a beautiful park for its citizens. However it was soon taken over by people from neighboring villages, particularly Nazareth. They came to play, listen to loud music and smoke nargilas. The locals felt harassed and complained that the interlopers were sexually harassing women, making them uncomfortable in their own park.

The mayor’s answer was, rather than expressing simple-minded racism against the newcomers, to start charging an entrance fee to everyone not from Afula. Suddenly the harassment decreased. Those who came from afar respected what they paid for. Those who came from Afula already appreciated their park.

This doesn’t always work. The free market on the beaches of the Sea of Galilee created chaos and savagery on an unprecedented scale. For those unfamiliar with the problem, the beaches and shores of the Kinneret were supposed to be generally open to the public. But over the years, like some sort of infestation, the shoreline was illegally gated off and fees were charged for the “privilege” of using it. Rather than quality control, for some reason, the shore became as savage and chaotic as one could imagine.



How to achieve a happy medium? To defend local parks, the imposition of fees for outsiders is not a bad way to preserve people’s sense that something belongs to them.

However, in areas that are relatively free from visitors, like the Arbel, Ein Avdat and Montfort, there is no compelling reason to charge people to see a natural area. Even worse is to pave a road and put up ticket booths and a parking lot at a place like Montfort, potentially ruining a pristine and romantic place. Some people are lazy and others are physically unable to make the hike; that is a shame, but they can go to any number of other Crusader forts such as Kochav Hayarden (Belvoir), Aqua Bella, Tel Afek (Antipatris) or Apollonia.

The free market is a good way to regulate local areas and pay for their upkeep, but many rural areas should remain just plain free to all.

The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.

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