Present-day Birya, which occupies what was formerly the site of the Arab village, was founded in 1949 as a foresters’ community. The Meron-Tzfat Highway (Route no. 89), which skirts the park to the north, dates back to 1915; since the construction of the new road, the importance of the old one has greatly declined.
The road is bordered by tall cypress trees that mark the site of the Muslim and Christian Arab cemetery that dates from the late Ottoman period. Ancient mastic trees grow among the graves, and in March this area teems with wild flowers such as chamomile (Anthemis), red chamomile (Adonis microcarpa), star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum), Italian orchids, fan-lipped orchids and Dinsmore’s orchids.
In April and May, the site is bright with the flowers of the Mesopotamian Iris, a species often found in Arab cemeteries. The flowering stalks of these plants can reach a height of 1.2 meters and they bear three or four large bluish-violet flowers. In the past this iris was believed to belong to a cultivated variety that had spread into the wild, but in recent years wild populations of it have been discovered in Upper Galilee and on the northern Golan Heights and Mount Hermon.
When we reach the pools (station no. 1) we can choose to end our walk at this point and return to our vehicle, in accordance with the short version of the route. Or, alternatively, we can continue slightly further and keep on walking downstream to station no. 9 before returning to our vehicle; those interested in continuing the long route until the very end will continue onwards after station no. 9 to the stations beyond. Some 200 meters further on the path is crossed by a grid beneath which flows a channel that drains a small spring. This is all that remains of Ein al-Afya, which once emerged around 100 meters uphill from this spot. This spring, whose waters were renowned in the annals of Tzfat for their curative properties, was destroyed in an excess of enthusiasm when the park was created. Although it is now covered up, its waters continue to flow underground down the slope before emerging at this point.