In the afternoon hours of June 2nd, 2016, the intense rays of the summer sun eased off from over the Nazareth Mountains. The trees in Kfar HaHoresh Forest, the old forest of KKL-JNF, provided generous shading and a pleasant atmosphere. The people of the Jezreel Valley (Heb lit: Emek Yizre'el) Regional Council and KKL-JNF's Northern Region completed the preparations for the launching of a new trail in Israel: the Jezreel KKL-JNF Trail, which passes by many projects established in the forest, assisted by a donation of Friends of KKL-JNF in Belgium.
The Jezreel KKL-JNF trail is good news for the approximately 40,000 residents of the Regional Council, who live in 39 communities, as well as for the travel enthusiasts in Israel. The trail, whose main route reaches almost 100 km in length, passes between the important tourist sites of the valley and the Nazareth Mountains. Significant parts of it were already marked by the Israel Trails Committee, which also produced a hiking map and trail markings of the area on a scale of 1:40,000.
Secondary paths branch out from the main trail, creating a network of about 200 km of trails – a paradise for hiking and cycling enthusiasts.
The trail was launched with a festive event, in which local residents and youth took part. They made their initial acquaintance with the trail and walked a short section of it, devoured freshly baked pita bread and participated in activity stations which were guided by KKL-JNF instructors.
The trail began with a dream. In 2011, Udi Shnitzer, then the Youth Coordinator of the Regional Council, sat with his group of teens. They were looking for an idea to note the one hundredth anniversary of settlement in the Jezreel Valley. "One of our youths, who worked for the Israel Trails Committee, proposed to blaze a trail that would pass between the villages of the Regional Council", says Udi. "That sounded like a great idea. I took a map and marked an initial route. I understood that it would be a complex task, but that it would be possible. Until today I keep that first map."
The Jezreel-KKL-JNF Trail set a few goals. The primary goal is to present the "Yizre'eliness" – an elusive concept but well present in the valley – a multifaceted region built on the foundations of a distant historical past, land redemption and settlement, agriculture, nature and the human mosaic. The trail passes through well-known sites, among them Tzippori, Tel Shimron and the Balfouria Nature Reserve, but at the same time reveals wonderful sites that are much less known, such as Ein Gideon, Alonim Springs, secret tunnels in Horvat Ruma, Ein Makav, the Yafia ancient synagogue and the ancient Shabbat boundary stone in Timrat.
Maya Birman, the Director of Jezreel Valley's Youth Department, spoke about their vision: "New residents live in the Jezreel Valley Regional Council. Also a large majority of the veteran residents are not aware of the agricultural life and the "Yizre'eli" spirit that we strive to maintain here. We believe that The Jezreel KKL-JNF Trail, which connects communities, historical sites and culture, will do the job. We invested a lot of time in planning and only last summer did we agree on the route. We owe a big thanks to KKL-JNF. Large segments of the trail pass through KKL-JNF forests and we received a huge amount help from its people in planning the trail, putting up signage and contributing resources for the trail's creation."
The trail's planning was entrusted to Matanya Maya, a resident of the Regional Council, who is a geographer and city planner: "I started planning the trail four years ago. We didn't invent the wheel here. The sites and access roads to them already exist. We just formed them into one idea, which meets environmental, tourism and communal aspects."
"From the environmental aspect", says Matanya, "the trail underlines the values of nature, scenery and legacy, and it serves as a tool to sustain them. I planned, of course, that the trail would have touristic value and that it would pass through interesting sites for the hikers. Without the hikers, the trail has no right to exist. We also connect the trail with the communities living alongside it. We make sure that every community will adopt a segment or an activity on the trail, will add sites which are known to the local residents and normally not known to other people, and will cultivate them."
Racheli Avidov, Spokesperson of the Regional Council, emceed the launch ceremony. The first speaker, Yiftah Harhol, KKL-JNF's Northern Region Director, mentioned the firm partnership that KKL-JNF has with the Regional Council. The cooperation with KKL Belgium, for example, greatly contributed to the improvement of Kfar HaHoresh Forest and its marked paths. "We created the bicycle trail along the Kishon River", said Yiftah, "and we initiated a special project in cooperation with Neve Ami'el youth – the Timrat Single. This is a wonderful social-environmental project, in which we integrate special needs youth with an environmental initiative that contributes to the community. KKL-JNF also gave scholarships to five youths to participate in a tour guide course."
About two years ago, when Ido Dori, Deputy Head of the Regional Council, asked KKL-JNF to participate in creating the trail, Yiftah Harhol accepted the mission willingly and happily. In the ceremony, he spoke of KKL-JNF's future plans for tourism in Jezreel Valley, among them transforming the historic train station in Kfar Yehoshua into a gateway that will serve as an information center and service station for cyclists and a departure point for trips in the Jezreel Valley: "We will continue to assist the trail, its development and the sub-trails, until a network of trails is created that will stretch over a total length of 200 km", he said. He congratulated the Jezreel Valley Regional Council on its vision for the trail and expressed the hope that other regional councils will follow in its footsteps.
Eyal Betzer, Head of the Regional Council, highlighted the activity of KKL-JNF in Jezreel Valley and the part it played in realizing the vision of the trail. "The idea of the trail is to involve the public", said Eyal Betzer, "not only in marking the trail, but also in knowing it and cultivating it, and to create a trail that all council residents will know."
Assisting with the establishment the trail, in addition to the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and KKL-JNF, were also Kishon Drainage and Rivers Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, the Israel Government Tourist Corporation (GTC), the Israel Trails Committee and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.