The Jerusalem Ring: A Green Park for the Golden City

Jerusalem has had the good fortune to be the first city in Israel to be encompassed by green parks as part of the plan to improve the city's quality of life and to protect its natural surroundings. The Jerusalem Ring is a new metropolitan park that extends over some 1,500 hectares (3700 acres), surrounding the capital to the north, west, and south. The park will preserve ancient landscapes while offering a variety of leisure and recreation opportunities, including footpaths, bicycle trails and picnic sites.

 

Arazim Valley. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

‏The Jerusalem Ring

Only one hundred years ago, the Jerusalem Hills were the exclusive province of nature, which surrounded the Old City and the new city that had just begun to grow in its environs. Believe it or not, there are still foxes prowling on the edges of Jerusalem as well as jackals, rodents and all kinds of birds. Green organizations succeeded in halting the building development project known as the Safdie Plan, which threatened to bury all this beauty under concrete and cement. Subsequently, an alternate plan was conceived, to develop the Jerusalem Park on the outskirts of the city, a metropolitan park.
 
The Government of Israel, the Jerusalem Municipality, KKL JNF, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and the Jerusalem Development Authority got together, stopped the bulldozers and created facts on the ground in order to create a green ring around the golden city.

 

The Jerusalem Ring was conceived as a park integrating development at various levels, from intensive to minimal impact in the unique Judean Mountains landscape:

 

  • A Ring of Nature: The Jerusalem Ring will preserve and develop 1500 hectares of open space surrounding the capital on three sides – north, west, and south.

 

  • A Ring of Heritage: The Jerusalem Ring will renovate and recreate the unique farming methods that were developed centuries ago in the hills around the city.

 

  • A Ring of Recreation: The Jerusalem Ring will provide playgrounds and active leisure areas for families and children from the surrounding neighborhoods and throughout the city.

 

  • A Ring of Sport: The Jerusalem Ring will include a circular cycling path around the entire city of Jerusalem, passing through urban and natural landscapes. Footpaths, sports facilities, and outdoor gyms will foster a culture of fitness.

 

  • A Ring of Flora and Fauna: The Jerusalem Ring will cherish and preserve the plants and wildlife that have flourished in the area. Gazelles and owls will thrive again; wildflowers will bloom.

 

  • A Ring of Hope: The Jerusalem Ring will embrace all who use it: Residents of the city and the surrounding communities and visitors from near and far; secular, religious, and Haredim; Jews and Arabs; people with special needs; toddlers and senior citizens.

 

Conceptual Elements

The design concept for the Jerusalem Metropolitan Park includes a number of elements:

 

  • Park development will focus on a number of valleys in the area that are actually wadis, dry streambeds, created by natural flows in ancient times. A network of paths will connect the various park sections between themselves and adjacent neighborhoods. Each of these valleys is actually a park in its own right, and together they will form the Jerusalem Ring, Jerusalem's metropolitan park.

 

  • Developing the extensive open spaces and unique natural and heritage values surrounding Jerusalem with minimum environmental impact, as a metropolitan park to meet the recreational needs of Jerusalemites, while at the same time integrating a number of intensively developed recreation sites. KKL-JNF Development will be based mainly on footpaths, bicycle trails and picnic sites as a setting for recreation in nature, and will be limited to areas of low ecological sensitivity.

 

  • Integrating the human footprint into the park – landscapes shaped by human activity over many generations: archaeological sites and abandoned orchards, ancient terraces once irrigated by spring water, and disturbed areas that will be transformed from eyesores to resources. Development will seek to mitigate the environmental impact of modern infrastructure elements and where possible, use them to develop park facilities such as touring routes based on upgraded service roads or recreation areas based on existing water sources.

 

  • Developing the Jerusalem Ring as a transition area, linking urban Jerusalem neighborhoods and parks with the larger forests and national parks in the Judean Mountains, thus protecting open spaces and preserving unique natural and heritage values for future generations.

Arazim Valley Park

"As  the  mountains  are  round  about  Jerusalem …"
(Psalms 125: 2)

 
The "Entrance to the City"
 
Arazim Valley Park includes some of the most impressive natural beauty to be found in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Its location between the growing town of Mevasseret Zion and the densely-populated northern neighborhoods of the capital provides the ideal setting for an intensively-developed park offering diverse recreational opportunities for all.
 
Anyone who has driven along the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem highway has seen the picturesque landscape of Arazim Valley to the north of the road, just below the entrance to the city. The entire base of the valley and most of the supporting slopes are free of construction. Some areas have been planted; others are covered by farming terraces; and others still are covered with typical native shrubs. The distinction between this open, pastoral landscape and the nearby urban landscape is sharp and impressive.
 
The main entrances to the park will be situated close to Motsa interchange and alongside Golda interchange (the Ramot road). A network of paved park roads and bicycle trails will ensure easy access by motor vehicle, bicycle, and on foot to the various attractions and facilities, and will provide access from Lifta, Ramot, and Mevasseret Yerushalayim.
 

Arazim Valley. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

 
Forestry activity in the park will include restoring and planting orchards, and maintaining existing forests and woods including ancient cedar and olive groves. Indigenous broad-leafed tree species will be planted.
 
Arazim is a dry streambed. Its flow channel will be rehabilitated and two water-based activity bases are planned. The "Meadow" is an intensive recreation area enjoying artesian water sources that emerged to the surface following development work. The water will be channeled into a pool and aqueduct, creating wading pools for children, lawns, and shaded corners. At the Enot Telem Springs the ancient terrace agriculture typical of the area with its irrigation system, will be recreated.
 
At Enot Telem are remains of a small Jewish settlement – Bet Talma. The land (60 acres, 23 hectares) was purchased in 1906 and a building intended for a soap and oil factory was erected. The two-storey structure (whose remains can be seen at the site) was never completed, and the site was eventually abandoned.
In 1922 five Jewish families settled at Enot Telem, naming their settlement Emek HaArazim. The site was abandoned during the 1929 Arab Riots, and further settlement attempts were unsuccessful.

Motsa Valley Park

"Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and beg lad with her, all ye that love her …"
(Isaiah 66: 10)

 
Water and Pioneering Heritage
 
The broad Sorek River valley extends west of Jerusalem and south of Motsa interchange, over approximately 1250 acres (500 hectares). This is a diverse area rich in natural habitats and in remnants of the ancient agriculture that once flourished in the area and includes water sources and forested areas. According to the park's planning concept the sections closest to the streambed will be developed intensively and the slopes will be planted with a variety of trees.
 
Park entrances will be developed at Old Motsa in the north, near the ancient synagogue and historic Yelin House, and from Kerem intersection in the south. Development at the southern entrance will include a café, information desk, car park, and restrooms. The main park route, including the main bicycle trail, will begin at this entrance and continue north along Sorek River. The Bet Zayit Reservoir will be a focal point for tours, offering opportunities to observe plant and wildlife. Development includes activity points, informational and directional signs, and long-term maintenance.
 
The park includes two additional recreational hubs:
 
  • A small lake above the Bet Zayit Reservoir, in the heart of the park. Facilities will include a restaurant, water-based recreation, sports and active recreation facilities, picnic areas, lawns, parking, footpaths and bicycle trails.

 

  • A broad three-kilometer long promenade will connect the northern and southern entrances, including a four-meter wide footpath with seating areas, a bicycle trail, and shaded lookouts along the lake.

 

Photo: Tanya Susskind, KKL-JNF Jerusalem

 

On the forested slopes minimal-impact development will create a green area connecting the western neighborhoods of Jerusalem, nearby communities, and the core area of the park. Existing groves and forests will be tended (including supplementary planting) and forest paths improved with shaded seating areas. In some cases new paths will be developed.
 
The archeological remnants from the Biblical and Second Temple periods and abundant water sources near the ancient Motsa Synagogue support the assumption that this was the location of the Biblical city of Motsa. The synagogue was in active use until the riots of 1929, but was later abandoned until 1961, when the first families moved into the new community of Lower Motsa.
 
Yelin House was the first house established in Motsa, the first Jewish farming settlement established outside city walls in modern times. Yehoshua Yelin built his family home close to a Crusader farmhouse that served as an inn for travelers on the road to Jerusalem. Yelin House, located near the old synagogue has been renovated.

Refa’im Valley Park

"Whoever did not see Jerusalem in its days of glory, never saw a beautiful city in their life."
(Talmud: Succah 51b)

 
The Green Park
 
Refa’im Valley Park, the southern section of the Jerusalem Ring, extends over some 1250 acres (500 hectares), bordering on the western and southern fringes of the city, and includes green extensions penetrating deep into urban areas along Nahal Gilo and Nahal Sharafat. Development style and intensity will vary with the transition from urban areas to the open spaces on the west.
 
The park has been designed to offer various recreational opportunities and to foster the bond between the public and the park, bringing together different social and ethnic groups. Signs, leaflets, and maps will provide information and enrich the visiting experience.
 
 
Refa’im Valley Park from East to West
  • The Railroad Park is a strip of open space that forms the urban section of the park, extending from the heart of the city and along the abandoned railroad track from the Khan Theater westwards. This green boulevard used for urban leisure and recreation: footpaths, pergolas, and seating areas.

 

  • The main entrance with the intensive recreation section will be developed between Teddy Stadium, En Yael and the Biblical Zoo. Open areas in this section will be upgraded and connected forming the entrance to the park, with an information kiosk, parking, lawns, cafés, and leisure and active recreation facilities, such as a large water sports facility and various shaded lookouts along the valley.

 

  • The nature recreation section in the western section of the park will be more natural, less intensively developed. The dry streambed will be the focus for development of additional wooded areas, roads, paths, and bridges. Visitors can enjoy traditional agricultural landscapes, and the series of springs in the area. Three springs – En Lavan, En Walaja, and Ein el Hanniya – will be restored and developed to suit the growing number of visitors.

 

Water, in the past as today, was of the utmost importance. The spring of Ein el Hanniya in Refa'im Valley was the water source for a public fountain dating back to Roman times, called a nympheon. From there water was carried along a hewed channel to a large pool and then on to irrigation channels.

Tsofim Valley Park

Tsofim Valley, the eastern section of Nahal Sorek Valley, is characterized by the KKL-JNF pine forests planted in the 1950s. Residents of the new neighborhoods north of Nahal Tsofim use the Valley for leisure and recreation. Development will include playgrounds, leisure corners, footpaths, and cycling trails. Forested areas will be less developed in order to protect local wildlife.

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

Tsurim Valley Park

"Above the peak of Mount Scopus, peace to you Jerusalem"

(Avigdor HaMe'iri)

 

Tsurim Valley lies between Mount Scopus and the Old City of Jerusalem. Steps leading down from the Hebrew University, offer beautiful views of the Temple Mount. The valley includes footpaths and the Jerusalem Ring Bicycle Trail will also pass through this section. The park extends over 43 acres (17 hectares) and includes some 350 olive trees and a few impressive Atlantic pistachios, about 1000 young fruit trees, ancient cisterns and a burial cave.

Ongoing Projects in the Ring

  • Bicycle trails: The Jerusalem Ring Bicycle Trail is a key feature in the Jerusalem Ring. The trail will eventually surround the entire city, connecting residents of the Jerusalem neighborhoods and surrounding communities to the diverse facilities in the park. KKL-JNF is developing the sections of the trail that pass through open areas – from French Hill intersection through Tsofim Valley, Arazim Valley, Motsa Valley, along Aminadav Ridge, and through Refa’im Valley.

 

  • Primary and secondary park roads will enable visitors to enter the different sections of the park and enjoy its facilities. Some of the roads, car parks, and paths will be paved while others will be dirt tracks. The roads will provide access to the picnic sites and leisure facilities in the forests and parks and signs will direct visitors and enrich their experience.

 

  • Rehabilitating the dry streambeds will include regulating stream courses that have been damaged by floods and urban effluents and restoring terraces and stream vegetation. The streams will once again function as part of the natural system supporting the diverse seasonal flora and fauna.

 

  • Restoring and rehabilitating the numerous springs in the area will include cleaning the hewed tunnels, repairing pools and water channels, maintaining vegetation and terraces, planting orchards, and ensuring long-term upkeep. These charming corners will become a focus for recreation and a source for hands-on learning about the agricultural heritage of the Judean Mountains.

 

  • Nurturing and planting forests: The area includes well-established forests and special groves planted on the valley slopes. The forested areas will be tended, rehabilitated, and strengthened in order to preserve the green setting and the leisure opportunities it provides.

 

  • Tending plantations and orchards: Abandoned orchards will be restored and new orchards will be developed on the basis of native Israeli fruit trees.

 

  • Establishing active recreation facilities and seating areas: Seating areas will be developed facing the scenery encouraging people to rest and enjoy time in nature. The corners will include picnic facilities, active recreation facilities, and scenic lookouts.

 

  • Educational activity and public events: the park will be a focus of educational activity related to heritage and the environment for people of all ages. Its facilities can host a variety of public events for the benefit of residents in surrounding communities and neighborhoods.