An oasis in the desert

The Ma’aleh Adumim-French Park offers a lake, an amphitheater and a café in desert terrain of the Judean Hills.

Ma’aleh Adumim-French Park 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ma’aleh Adumim-French Park 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The last thing you’d expect to find in the desert terrain of the Judean Hills is a lake. But residents of Ma’aleh Adumim, and travelers on the way to the Dead Sea have been realizing that thanks to the help of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, it’s not a mirage.
The Ma’aleh Adumim-French Park – 0.2 hectares (half an acre) that include a tranquil, man-made lake, picturesque walking path, an amphitheater and a spacious indoor/outdoor café – has been attracting streams of visitors since opening last year.
“This is the crown jewel in our community,” said local resident Pnina Levy, who has lived in Ma’aleh Adumim for over 12 years. “It provides a beautiful focal point for the city.”
The park, situated in a valley adjacent to the recently opened central entrance to the city of 40,000, received its name due to a generous contribution to the project from the Friends of KKL-JNF France. The city of Ma’aleh Adumim and KKL-JNF were full partners in the project.
The centerpiece of the park is the sparkling 800-meter lake, including a small island in the middle. Over 12 hectares of undeveloped land leading into Ma’aleh Adumim are slated for additional areas of the park in future stages of development, a spokesman for the city said.
Yehiel Cohen, the KKL-JNF deputy director of the central region, explained that the organization’s vast experience in setting up similar expanses in other arid communities in the country helped make developing the lake and its surroundings a straightforward process.
“We do a lot of projects with municipalities throughout Israel,” he explained. “The initiative comes from the municipality; they devise the plan and then approach us about helping with the funding and participating in the implementation of the project.”
Cohen cited a number of KKL-JNF projects that have created bodies of water in arid climates, including Yeroham, Dimona and Eshkol Park and Golda Meir Park near Beersheba.
The main problem with plunking down a lake in a dry environment is making sure it doesn’t change the surrounding ecosystem or damage the environment, explained Cohen. “What’s special about these places as well, that needs to be considered, is the high evaporation rate of the water due to the hot temperatures and strong sun,” he said.
“I think the lake is lovely, it adds so much to the community,” said local resident Devora Kramin. “It’s the perfect place to hike down to with a nice picnic basket and sit outside.”
Kramin expressed hope that a publicized plan to introduce paddle boats to the lake would soon come to fruition. The municipal spokesman said that plans for the boats were close to realization.
However, even before the boats make their debut, the park has already turned into a popular recreation site, with exercise enthusiasts regularly seen walking around the lake perimeter.
The exercise may prove to be a necessary condition for visiting the park since the opening last year of the popular Jerusalem-area café Caffit. It has proven to be a magnet for area residents, with its lakeside seating, balmy outdoor temperatures and high-quality food.
“Before we even submitted a tender for the café, we came to the area and just loved the setting,” said café manager Michel Peri. “It’s like an oasis in the middle of the desert.”
Peri added that every night beginning around 7 the cafe begins to fill up, and stays that way until closing time after midnight. While most of the clientele is from Ma’aleh Adumim and the surrounding communities, Peri noted that diners have come from as far as Haifa and Tel Aviv – people who happened to be in the region and heard there was a lake and a café worth checking out.
“The reaction that I get from people when they come see the surroundings is one of amazement,” said Peri.
In addition to cuisine, the park also offers culture. The amphitheater at the park has already played host to a concert under the stars by the Ra’anana Symphonette Orchestra, and resident Kramim, for one, expressed hope that more shows would be forthcoming. But just having an attraction as picturesque as the Ma’aleh Adumim-French Park nearby is still music to her ears and eyes.
“Just seeing it down below, even if you’re not going there, adds so much to the city,” she said. “Now to go out and have a good time and change your environment, you only have to travel five minutes.”