The melody of birds and the wind through the trees are rare sights and sounds in a city notoriously short of green space.
On the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus, the sounds of birds and wind in the trees are both common and intentional. Jeff Camhi, a microbiologist by training who is also an expert tour guide and professor, has been working with the university to develop the campus into a living nature center.
"The idea of the Nature Park and Galleries at Givat Ram is to turn the whole campus into a museum," said Camhi as he walked towards his "office," a tall Cedar of Lebanon just inside the security entrance onto the campus. "We have truly turned this campus into a temple of learning by exploiting its potential as an interactive museum that uses touch, smell and sight."
The Nature Park opened in 2003 and offers a range of guided tours for people of all ages.
One new feature for children is the Campus Bird Trail which features painted bronze bird sculptures by Golani sculptor Roi Shinar. There are sculptures of each type of bird that either lives here permanently or migrates through from Europe and Africa in the winter or summer. There are 280 species that fly through Jerusalem in a given year, and on campus, 70 different types have been spotted by birders and the trail features 50 birds commonly seen in the area.
"This is such a nice place," said Ayelet Moren of Jerusalem, as her four-year-old daughter Shlomit ran through the small path touching the birds and hiding behind the bushes. "She can see the birds up close and she loves to touch them. For me, this is a place where I can sit and let her run around."
Camhi explained that the Nature Park is designed with both parents and children in mind. The tours, especially, focus on giving a range of information that engages everyone.
In addition to the Campus Bird Trail, there is a guided tree walk that exhibits the 50 species on the campus. Anyone can also take an unguided tour and look at the interactive tree signs that explain details about the trees.
The Evolution Garden behind the English Flower Garden offers a look at plant evolution. Though still in the process of construction, once it is completed this garden will feature a path through the history of plant development. The garden will exhibit five stages of plant evolution starting with algae and moving to non-seed plants and eventually modern species.
There is also a handicapped-accessible boardwalk through a forest styled after the one in Yellowstone National Park in the United States.
The university had slated the forest for destruction, hoping to construct a road and new academic buildings in the 50-year-old forest. Camhi hired an ecologist to study the forest and then convinced the University to instead use it as a part of the interactive museum.
"We spent over NIS 1 million on this boardwalk," Camhi said. "We saved this forest. It was planted in the 1950s when we couldn't use the Mount Scopus campus. The history and stories here are not just of the trees but of the country."
Tours can be arranged and cost NIS 250 per activity for a group. For more info: 658-4709 to arrange a time for tour or for more information. Individuals and families can take self-guided tours every day except Shabbat.