Italy Park - Alexander River: Rehabilitation for Coexistence

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Israel's unique wildlife returns to this rehabilitated river: Italy Park – Alexander River is everything the residents of Central Israel could possibly wish for: an all-year-round river, nature, peace and quiet, open spaces and farmed fields.
  • How to get there

    • To Italy Park – From the access road to Kibbutz Ma’abarot and Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon, which branches off the Old Coastal Road (Highway 4) behind the gas station at Ha’ogen Junction.
    • To the Water Turtle Park and the River Trail – From the access road to Kfar Vitkin, which branches off the Old Coastal Road (Highway 4) at Hefer Junction.
    • To the Samara Ruins Recreation Area – Turn to Michmoret at the Beit Yanai Interchange on the Coastal Road (Highway 2) and, after crossing the bridge over the Alexander River, turn east onto a dirt road, which is suitable for all motor vehicles. The road passes under the bridge, proceeds along the north bank of the riverbed and arrives at the recreation area.
    • To the Estuary – Turn to Michmoret at the Beit Yanai Interchange on the Coastal Road (Highway 2), enter the Beit Yanai Beach National Park (entrance fee), and walk north along the shore until the estuary.
    • To Kedem Park – Turn east at Ruppin Junction (Highway 4) and turn right to Moshav Haniel, but before the turn into the moshav continue straight on the dirt road and follow the signs.
    • To the Middle Section of the River – From the road that passes near Kibbutz Ha’ogen and goes by Moshav Beit Levi, this section of the park is for pedestrians, cyclers and ATVs.
  • Geographic location-

    Sharon and coastal plains
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Park-

    Samara Ruins, Kedem Park, Water Turtle Park.
  • Facilities-

    Picinic - Barbecue area, Lookout, Active recreation area, Marked path, Accessible site.
  • Other sites in the area-

    HaSharon Park, Hadera Forest, Pioneer House in Bitan Aharon, Hadera River Park, Ilanot Forest, Kadima Forest, Beit Yanai Beach National Park, Tourist Attractions in Hefer Valley.
  • Access-

    Special (adapted for the disabled)
  • Interest-

    Hiking and Walking Tracks,Lookouts

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Italy Park and the Alexander River were rehabilitated
and developed thanks to contributions from friends of
KKL-JNF in Israel and worldwide, including Italy and France.

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

About the Alexander River

KKL-JNF has restored a beautiful model segment of the river, with recreation areas and paths for hikers, cyclers and ATVs. Nature lovers will not wish to forego a face-to-face encounter with the giant turtles in the Water Turtle Park, while hopeless romantics will not want to miss watching the sunset where the river meets the sea. The river, which became very polluted over the years, is well on its way towards complete rehabilitation.

Water, Landscape and Environment

The Alexander River, which is 32km long, is one of the largest watercourses of the Sharon. Its tributaries start in the area of Nablus, between Mount Grizim and Mount Eval. The water flows down the western slopes of the mountains of Samaria and emerges in the Sharon region between Kochav Ya’ir and Taibe, where it veers north in a large arc until it flows into the sea near Michmoret.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.
The Alexander River drains a large area covering 550km2 and therefore conducts great quantities of water in the winter. Its channel was narrow in the past, and the flooding created large areas of marshland all over the Hefer Valley. These swamps were drained in the 1930s, in the early days of Jewish inhabitation of the valley. In those days the river contained a great diversity of aquatic plants.

In the 1960s, part of the river channel in the Sharon was widened in order to prevent flooding in winter. Nevertheless, here and there, close to the river, there are still a few small, stubborn springs left from the former swamps, which flow in small canals these days, surrounded by reeds and canes, directly to the channel of the Alexander River.

Some people attribute the name of the river to Alexander Yanai, the Hasmonean king, who conquered foreign cities in the region. In any case, it was not inconvenient for those who named the river that the lower part of the river, the part near the estuary, was called Wadi Iskander, in Arabic, after Iskander Abu Zabura, who “protected” the rafts that transported watermelons on the river to the port near Michmoret in the late nineteenth century.

After the establishment of the State of Israel, the Alexander River saw hard times. The pollution and waste thrown into it turned its channel into a fetid sewage canal. A major source of pollution was the effluents that flowed from the Nablus streambed, the main tributary of the Alexander.

The Nablus streambed amassed the effluents from about 70 sources of pollution from Nablus to Tulkarem, including residential areas, industrial factories and stone cutting works. From October through December, olive oil production waste from the many olive presses in the area was also dumped in the river.

In the past, a great deal of toxic waste from the Emek Hefer industrial zone was dumped in the river, too, and the agricultural communities in the vicinity added agricultural waste, cowshed effluents and all kinds of wreckage. The river was clinically dead. The many fish that had once proliferated in the river vanished, and the river channel turned into a stinking sewer, a mosquito hatch and worse. In short, anyone who cared about their health kept their distance.

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

The situation started changing in 1995, when the Alexander River Restoration Administration (ARRA) was established by KKL JNF, the Emek Hefer Regional Council, the Ministry for Environmental Protection, the Sharon Drainage Authority and around fifteen other organizations.

The modern conception of river restoration maintains that one must treat not only the channel but its entire drainage basin and indeed, a lot of work has been done on the Alexander River drainage basin in recent years. The influx of pollutants from sources in the Sharon region has been halted almost completely, the effluents from Netanya and Kfar Yona are treated at a treatment plant, and the Emek Hefer Regional Council initiated a joint venture with the municipality of Tulkarem for wastewater treatment. The government of Germany expressed its willingness to fund this project, and Israeli and Palestinian neighbors have been working on it together since 1999. Meanwhile, in order to expedite the rehabilitation of the river, the ARRA initiated an emergency program for the treatment of drainage from the Nablus streambed, to be ultimately combined with a more permanent solution, which project was completed in 2003.

Important participants in the restoration of the river are the residents of the Hefer Valley, who took an active part in making decisions regarding the rehabilitation and its implementation. Public events have been held by the river such as marches, festivals, educational projects, returning fish to the river and tree planting. Especially active among the Emek Hefer residents have been a group of volunteers called the Alexander River Trustees.

The western part of the river is fed at present by groundwater, while seawater penetrates the lower part of the channel. Additional water sources are the fish ponds in the area, irrigation drainage from the cultivated fields and treated wastewater. There is still a lot to be done for the improvement of water quality, but the liquid in the channel can already be called water, which the revival of aquatic flora and fauna proves.

The Alexander River Restoration Project won important prizes in Israel, including the Award for Realizing a Beautiful Israel, and in 2003 was awarded the most prestigious international prize for river management and restoration, the Thiess International River Prize.

Alexander river. Photo: Yoav Devir.

Main Sites on the River

The middle section of the Alexander River, between Burgeta and Highway 4, features almost “lost” landscapes for an 11 km. segment of the flowing river in the midst of cultivated fields from horizon to horizon. The recreation site that was developed here is Kedem Park, which can be reached by dirt roads suitable for all motor vehicles, from the direction of Moshav Haniel and from the direction of the Ruppin Academic Center.

The Alexander River Restoration Administration (ARRA) constructed beautiful recreations areas under the shade of trees, and the park covers both banks of the riverbed, which are connected by low water bridges.

Except for Kedem Park, this section of the park is suitable for professional hikers only, whereas the country roads are suitable only for ATVs. In the winter they are muddy and, in the summer, the irrigation of the cotton fields can render certain places impassable even for jeeps. It is recommended to hike here by foot or by mountain bike.

Large flocks of birds land in the fields, including red kites and falcons during migration seasons. In the river itself, one can see water fowl such as spur-winged plover, coot, moorhen, white heron, various sandpipers as well as marsh turtles and various fish, mainly catfish. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars!

Italy Park

The model river segment north of Kibbutz Ma’abarot is the most popular spot on the Alexander River. It is also called Italy Park, in gratitude for the contribution made by KKL JNF Italy for its development and for the rehabilitation and landscaping of this 750m stretch. There are great lawns, recreation areas, benches and riverbank flora, even a café called Little Alexander, and the dirt roads in the park are accessible for wheelchairs and baby carriages.

Three small riffle dams were constructed in the channel. Two rows of large rocks, one row 30cm lower than the other, with rocks of many sizes between them, allow the water flowing in the river to swirl, which enriches it with oxygen. Fish are able to jump over these facilities, which is why they are also known as fish ladders. The steps also add a flowing look to the river and the sound of rushing water.

There is a concrete bridge at the site, which takes you to Kibbutz Ma’abarot. It is call the Cow Bridge, because in former days the cows were taken across the bridge from the kibbutz to the corral on the other bank. It is hard to believe that the bridge, which is almost 8m higher than the riverbed, gets covered by water when the Alexander River floods.

Nearby is a very pretty steel suspension bridge, which substitutes for the concrete bridge. At the end of the model segment of the river, there is a large recreation area in the shade of eucalyptus trees, and in the middle of it there is a beautiful observation deck.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive.

River Trail

The River Trail is a paved path on the north bank of the riverbed. It is 2.7km long and goes from Italy Park to the Water Turtle Park. It is also suitable for bicycles, strollers and wheelchairs. It is an absolutely fun trail and passes the length of the river’s wide, beautiful channel, parts of which are often covered with a thick layer of duckweed.

Alongside the trail there are playgrounds for children, places to sit and landscaped spots that blend in well with the natural surroundings. Parts of the trail are shaded by eucalyptus trees. If you arrive in two cars, you can leave one of them in the Water Turtle Park Recreation Area. If not, simply go back to the starting point. On Saturdays and holidays, when the river has a lot of visitors, it is better not to do too much by car.

Photo: Yoav Devir.

Water Turtle Park

The Water Turtle Park was created in 2004 near the Turtle Bridge, which got its name because of the many softshell turtles that like to congregate in its vicinity and entertain visitors. There is a beautiful observation deck there, made of wood, which was constructed on the riverbank and allows visitors to relate to the turtles.

The lookout tower on the manmade hill views the expanses of the entire Hefer Valley, and plans for the park include a landscaped garden, playground equipment for children, benches and water fountains.

The river segment next to the park has the largest population in Israel of the softshell turtle, a giant turtle that usually lives in fresh water. Its length may reach up to 120cm, its weight up to 50kg. Areas of the riverbank have been covered with rocks so that the turtles may sunbathe, and certain parts of the riverbank have been fenced off so that the female softshells can lay their eggs undisturbed by humans and predators.

Samara Ruin

The Samara ruin is a big hill on the north bank of the Alexander River at the top of which are the remains of a big house. The house, which was made of sandstone, was built at the end of the nineteenth century and later became a tollhouse for the Ottoman authorities. On the slope of the hill that faces the Alexander River there are caves, apparently ancient sandstone quarries.

The hill is covered with a profusion of wildflowers in the spring, including anemones, Persian buttercups and Sharon tulips. There is a great view of the region from the crest of the hill, and the great view of the sea some meters north of the ruin is well worth the walk.

At the foot of the ruin is a large recreation area, which was created in the shade of a eucalyptus grove. There are smaller recreation areas on the riverbank along the road going west toward Michmoret. One can take a short hike on foot to the estuary, which is about 2km away from the recreation area, or north to the Sharon Park Trail.
Photo: Yoav Devir.