Exploring the great outdoors

Celebrating the Israel Nature and Parks Authority’s 50th birthday.

The Hexagon Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve. (photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
The Hexagon Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve.
(photo credit: SHMUEL BAR-AM)
When Muhammad’s disciples were sent into the world to spread the Prophet’s message, they often met at the eastern crossroads known today as Horshat Tal.
According to legend, on one occasion 10 disciples stopped at Horshat Tal on their way from Mecca to Syria, and tied their horses to stakes they had brought with them from Mount Tabor. The next day, the sticks took root and began to blossom, eventually creating the magnificent Tabor oak forest that provides today’s Horshat Tal National Park with much of its wondrous beauty.
The park’s setting east of Kiryat Shmona, between the Galilean mountains and the Golan Heights, is truly breathtaking and provides a view of the Mount Hermon range. Within the park are 3.5 kilometers of sweet, flowing water from the Dan River and 20 hectares (about 50 acres) of well-kept shaded lawns.
Grounds have been leveled so that the entire park is accessible by wheelchair, stroller and walker.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Yet back in 1959, a fierce battle raged between forces who wanted to develop the area and others who insisted on preserving it in its natural state. Incredibly, Horshat Tal’s final fate was decided by Yosef Weitz, then director of land and forestry for Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.
Drawing a line in the ground with his cane, he decreed that everything to its north would become a national park; the area south of the line, a nature reserve.
In the first years of the state’s existence, no one had the time or the money to worry about preserving our natural heritage – or to concern themselves with anything, really, but economic development, immigrant absorption and survival. But Israel has always been blessed with the right people at the right time, and in the mid-’50s, archeologist/soldier/politician Yigael Yadin took advantage of a US-endowed fund that was to be used only for a specific purpose. With the fund, Yadin created the Association for the Improvement of Israel’s Landscape – and Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek followed with the Department for the Improvement or Repair of the Landscape and Historical Sites, which functioned inside the Prime Minister’s Office.
As time passed, and with the help of some extraordinary personalities with drive and ambition, the Knesset legislated two official authorities to deal with our natural heritage: the National Parks Authority and the Nature Reserves Authority. Both began operating exactly half a century ago this year.
In 1998, the two authorities merged.
Today, as the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, they work together to preserve, protect and develop this country’s 81 national parks and 400 nature reserves.
This is the first in a two-part series suggesting parks and reserves that are particularly enjoyable to visit in summer. Most take you through or near water; others are either air-conditioned or underground.
Regular summer hours at the parks and reserves are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday to Thursday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Friday; entrance until one hour before closing. Special hours are noted below.
Horshat Tal National Park (completely wheelchair accessible)
Several hundred ancient trees, dozens of meters tall and incredibly wide, now grace the park’s landscape. On your visit, look for two gigantic trunks that belong to an extremely old Tabor oak. Tradition holds that the trunk split in two during one of the severe earthquakes that befell Israel during the eighth century. Note how each trunk rejuvenated, closing off its open wounds and becoming a separate, independent entity.
Take Highway 99 northeast of Kiryat Shmona. Site is 5 km. east of Hametzudot Junction.
Nahal Snir Nature Reserve
(wheelchair-accessible trails)
The longest of the three tributaries that feed the Jordan River, Nahal Snir features an unpredictable flow that creates some of the most fabulous scenery in the North. Nature lovers who walk along the Snir and within its flow enjoy swirling rapids, fiercely rushing streams, masses of thick foliage, brilliant blossoms and quiet spots for contemplation.
Take Highway 99 northeast of Kiryat Shmona. Site is (also) 5 km. east of Hametzudot Junction.
Majrase Nature Reserve (wheelchair-accessible trails)
In the exact spot the Golan’s rivers flow into Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), this is a great site for a family water walk. Slosh along slowly in the water, passing rich and varied flora on the banks: willows, oleander and Abraham’s balm. Watch, as well, for soft-shelled turtles, stream crabs and dragonflies.
Take Road 92 north around Lake Kinneret.
At the Ma’aleh Gamla Junction turn west (left), and continue on an asphalt road until you see the sign for Majrase.
Special hours: July and August, 8 a.m.
to 6 p.m.
Beit Alfa Synagogue National Park
(air-conditioned and wheelchair-accessible)
Founded at the end of the fifth century CE and discovered during development of a modern kibbutz, the Beit Alfa Synagogue was decorated with a spectacular mosaic floor depicting biblical scenes and the zodiac. Visitors get a firsthand look at the synagogue remains, while watching a lively audiovisual presentation on daily life in the ancient village and how the mosaic was created.
The park is located on the grounds of Kibbutz Heftziba, off route 996.
Hexagon Pool in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve
Long, long ago, thick molten lava at a temperature of over 1,000° streamed across the Golan Heights – then a flat expanse of plain. When it stopped flowing and began to cool, the solidified basalt rock started to crack. Six‑sided columns formed as a result of the cooling were exposed after strong waters forced their way through the basalt and formed a gully, the Hexagon Riverbed. As you descend to the water you will view brightly flowering oleander, Abraham’s hemp, wild raspberry, willow and Syrian ash.
The road leading to the parking area is located off Route 888, 4 km.
north of Beit Saida Junction. Follow the signs.
Ein Afek Nature Reserve (wheelchair-accessible trails)
Considering the scarcity of water in this country, it is hard to believe that until the modern era, portions of the Galilee were completely covered by swampland. In at least one part of the Galilee, where the Na’aman River constantly overflowed and turned the ground into marsh, the waters were put to good use. Collected in dams and channeled towards a mill, they turned the poles which rotated the stones that ground the grain.
Remains from those lush, wet swamps today are now protected in the beautiful nature reserve of Ein Afek. Stroll through Ein Afek’s 66 hectares (about 163 acres) to enjoy a plethora of pools and springs, flora, fauna, and a fortified mill nearly 1,000 years old. You may see a water buffalo, one of seven brought from the Hula Nature Reserve to Ein Afek in 1991.
Located 2 km. east of Kurdani Junction, off Highway 4 (the Acre-Haifa road).
Beit She’arim National Park
After the destruction of the Second Temple and the expulsion of Jews from Jerusalem, the burial grounds on the Mount of Olives were out of bounds.
Taking their place was the cemetery at Beit She’arim, a thriving town from the second to the four4th centuries.
And what a fantastic cemetery it is! You can explore the cool interiors of these ornate tombs, housing the remains of famous sages such as Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi. It was this great rabbi who codified oral Jewish law into the Mishna. He lies in state along with other important religious figures who helped shape Judaism into what it is today.
View stone-carved doors, fabulous wall paintings, nearly two-dozen catacombs and an ancient synagogue.
The necropolis has been proposed as a World Heritage Site and is on UNESCO’S waiting list.
Located near Kiryat Tivon, off Road 75 on route 722, between Hatishbi and Hashomrim junctions.
Special hours: August 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., except for Friday (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
Nahal Taninim Nature Reserve
Beautifully maintained, the reserve features a sparkling lake, antiquities and an aqueduct high enough for you to walk within its walls. But most delightful is the flowing stream itself. Shady, sparkling, with a fantastic flow, it contains 14 kinds of fish, freshwater turtles, toads, frogs, crabs and sea otters. Sea otters can only live in uncontaminated water, and on the Israeli coast this is the only water source where they are found.
Taninim (“crocodiles”) River probably got its name during the Roman era, for travelers reported sighting Nile crocodiles in the water. Some experts think they may have been brought to this region to battle slaves in the Caesarea arenas, although they could have arrived by way of the Mediterranean after a very long swim.
Crocodiles continued to live in the river for thousands of years, but the last of these toothy creatures was shot and killed at the beginning of the 20th century.
Take Highway 4 and cross the bridge over the coastal highway towards Beit Hananya.
Yarkon and Tel Afek National Park
After a thorough cleanup job in the early 1990s, the source of the Yarkon River is sweet-smelling and clear, forming the nucleus of a remarkable 1,315-hectare (3,250-acre) two-part national park.
Not only can you stroll along a splendid foliage-lined path next to the river, but visitors also explore excavations at a fascinating historic tel (man-made hill) inside the park.
In one direction the riverbed trail leads through masses of reeds to the Pool of Yellow Water Lilies; from April to September, yellow water lilies float gracefully on the surface. If you walk the other way, you should see ducks and perhaps nutrias as well. Paths lead to ruins of the flour mills that operated along the Yarkon during the last century.
Tel Afek hosted several prosperous ancient cities over the millennia and features remains of an Egyptian governor’s residence dating back to the 13th century BCE. During the Israelite period, this particular Afek (there are two mentioned in the Bible) was populated by Philistines. Although Afek was part of the inheritance promised to the tribe of Asher, the Israelites failed miserably in all their attempts to conquer the city.
Developers have added a little lake and wading pools to the site.
The Tel Afek entrance is east of Highway 40 on Route 483 between the Ganim and Rosh Ha’ayin Junctions.
The Yarkon source entrance is off Highway 40 between the Yarkon and Segula junctions.
Ein Hemed National Park
(wheelchair-accessible paths and playground)
Ein Hemed is such a lovely site that the Crusaders called it Aqua Bella (beautiful water). Aqua Bella belonged to the Hospitaller Order, and was run by an agent who administered the property and collected taxes. He lived in a well-preserved manor house that is the finest example of its kind in this country.
Besides the house, its courtyard and vaulted halls, enjoy a refreshing spring, the sparkling stream that runs through the park, and a luxuriant green landscape.
Located off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway; take the Hemed exit.
Special summer events
Yarkon and Tel Afek National Park – Summer musical evenings every Friday in August at Tel Afek, 7 p.m. Site is open from 8 a.m. to performance end.
Hai Bar Carmel Nature Reserve, International Eagle Day, September 6, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Ein Hemed National Park, Bat Day, September 13, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Beit Guvrin National Park, September 27 Kites on the Hill 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Apollonia National Park August 18- 22, take part in the excavations.
Hebrew web site: www.parks.org.il.
The English site is not updated. For details on dozens more events call *3639.