Rosh HaAyin Community Forest - Wildflowers & Archaeology in Central Israel

Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Rosh HaAyin Community Forest, which extends over an area of around 1,050 dunam (approx 262.5 acres), provides a green belt on the northern fringes of the town adjacent to its new neighborhoods.
  • How to get there

    If you’re coming from Kesem Junction or by car from the town, the main entrance is from Kibbutz Galuyot Street and Nahal Raba Street; this entrance is suitable for vehicles. The other neighborhood entrances to the forest are designed for pedestrians and cyclists only.
  • Geographic location-

    Sharon and coastal plains
  • Area-

  • Special Sites in the Forest-

    Nahal Raba (“Raba River”), the Wildflower Trail, remains of ancient settlement, Even HaEzer Hill.
  • Facilities-

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

    Rosh HaAyin

Projects and Partners Worldwide

Rosh HaAyin Forest was rehabilitated and developed with the
help of Rosh HaAyin Municipality and the local residents
and thanks to contributions from Friends of KKL-JNF worldwide
including Canada.

Rosh HaAyin Forest. Photo: Moshe Scheller.

About the forest

The gully of the Raba River, one of the tributaries of the River Yarkon, runs through the length of the forest. In recent years, on the initiative of KKL-JNF, Rosh HaAyin Municipality and residents of the town, the forest has been better cared for and has become a focal point for local activities and a popular recreation venue – a community forest in all senses of the word. KKL-JNF began planting the forest, which is situated in the foothills of the Samaria Mountains on the eastern edge of Israel’s coastal plain, in 1976.

Activities in the forest are conducted in accordance with community forest principles, with both the local authorities and the local residents being involved. On Tu BiShvat 2006, a covenant was signed by the three parties concerned, who all committed to conserve the forest and respect its natural and historical sites. The document also formulated principles for cooperation on the basis of a shared commitment to sustainable development, conservation and care.

For a number of years, local volunteers have been acting as “trustees” for this community forest: not only have they been involved directly in taking care of the woodland – they have also served as guides and instructors for other members of their community. Every year Rosh HaAyin Municipality initiates major community events in the forest, including Tu BiShvat celebrations with tree-planting and music, and Jewish Community Day on Israel’s Independence Day.

The forest includes a number of archeological sites – the most important of these is Izbet Sartah, which has been identified as the Biblical site of Even HaEzer, which has rich carpets of wild flowers, especially in its eastern section, and observation points overlooking the Coastal Plain and Samaria. In spring and autumn, these points are excellent locations for observing migratory birds, whose flight path passes just overhead. KKL-JNF has provided a number of recreational, picnic and observation sites all along the main trail through the forest, and has collaborated with Rosh HaAyin Municipality and local schools and residents to provide footpaths, a cross-country running track and an orienteering course; the Even HaEzer site has also been cared for.

In 2005, a variety of woodland and forest trees were planted with the help of local residents: carob, almond, Mount Atlas mastic tree (Pistacia atlantica) jujube (Ziziphus spina-christi), Judas trees (Cercis siliquastrum) and stone pine. With the help of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia, the area along Nahal Raba was ecologically rehabilitated and landscaped in 2006; invasive species such as blue-leaf wattle (Acacia saligna) were removed and flowering shrubs and trees were added to give variety and color to the forest. An olive grove was also planted, so that the community could harvest olives together in the future.

A Community Forest

Community forests are becoming increasingly important throughout the world, both as green belts around built-up areas and as a vital environmental resource that improves the quality of life for city residents. These forests are generally located immediately adjacent to cities and primarily serve the needs of the nearby communities. The communal forest’s physical proximity to the people it serves promotes a sense of belonging and commitment between the community and the forest, and this is encouraged by promoting ongoing community involvement in all aspects of the relationship between the two, including planning, development, maintenance, community activities in the woodland and enlisting public support for forest conservation.

Community forests provide enormous benefits, from a venue for a quiet evening stroll beyond the noisy city confines and the introduction of nature and its rhythms to urban life, to reduced pollution and a possible improvement in the mental and physical health of local residents. These forests are a powerful tool that helps city dwellers to maintain links with nature and contributes to the social fabric of urban life.

Activities in the Community Forest

KKL-JNF activities in community forests are founded upon the following principles:

  • Conserving and caring for the communal forest area, its natural habitats and its heritage sites.
  • Providing free access for all residents to all parts of the forest and granting them the right to use it and its amenities free of charge.
  • Partnership in managing life in the forest and a shared commitment on the part of KKL-JNF, the local authority and the local community.
  • In Rosh HaAyin and other communities, KKL-JNF has established a Community Forest Staff composed of representatives from the local authority, the local residents and KKL-JNF itself, to coordinate all matters relating to the forest and the community. Forests that once served as a backyard where locals dumped their rubbish and people feared to set foot have now been transformed into an important recreational venue for the local people.

Sites and Routes in the Forest

For those who arrive by car, the main entrance to the forest is from the junction of Nahal Raba Street and Kibbutz Galuyot Street. We enter via the main forest road, which is indicated by posts marked in green, and it leads us to the forest’s sites and hidden corners.

Note: One section of the forest, in the east, is intended for walkers and cyclists only, and vehicles are forbidden there. The road follows the route of Nahal Raba, which is one of the tributaries of the Yarkon River. This river is dry for most of the year, but heavy winter rains can cause it to flow abundantly, flood part of the road and altogether impart a European aspect to the forest. When the river is in spate or in flood, do not enter the water!

Further on, we reach a recreation area shaded by eucalyptus trees, ; picnic tables and playground equipment are provided. Continuing eastwards, we cross the riverbed and arrive at another picnic area beyond which the road is closed to motor vehicles. From here we can set off on foot to see the forest flowers and the Wildflower Trail. We walk round the gate and continue along the main forest trail, which leads us to the beginning of a footpath that continues for a kilometer. There is a signpost at the start of the path, and the route is marked in red all the way along.

This path, which provides pedestrian access to the Neveh Afeq neighborhood, is circular: it climbs up the hill, before taking us back down to our starting point. It is beautiful at all seasons of the year, but most especially so when the flowers are in bloom.

A whole host of cyclamen flowers, red and white anemones, tulips, bee orchids and asphodels can be seen amid the cypress trees, interspersed with the leaves of sea squills (Drimia maritima), whose tall stalks bloom in autumn in many parts of the forest. As we progress, we find ourselves among pine trees, and the sides of the footpath are edged with rocks that nature has eroded into something resembling works of art. In the winter, the small-flowered Pancratium flowers here. We cross a woodland trail and continue to climb the path up the hill until we reach the lookout point at its summit.

At the top of the hill, there are the remains of an ancient settlement dating back originally to the Byzantine period, now known by the Arabic name of Khirbet ad-Dawir. The remnants of several buildings can still be seen, some of which have several courses of bricks intact. To the east of the site, a square cistern has been hewn into the rock and plastered, and visitors should take care not to stumble over any of the other holes or obstacles at the site. Styrax trees (Styrax officinalis) grow on the hill, and the nearby KKL-JNF observation point offers a view of the entire region: to the east we can see the hills of Samaria, which are easily identifiable as they are almost totally bare, with only a few trees remaining to remind us that they were once the site of natural woodland. To the north we can see Kafr Qasim and the Trans-Samaria Highway, with the city just visible to the south. From here, we descend the marked path until we reach the dirt road we crossed earlier.

At this point we turn right and join up with the continuation of the flowering footpath. We take the marked path down the hill amidst carpets of anemones. At this point in the path, we are walking on natural stone steps that can be slippery after rain, so please take care! The pine trees around us are covered with a variety of climbing plants, such as winter-flowering clematis (Clematis cirrhosa) and rough bindweed (Smilax aspera). We continue on down the gentle slope amidst carpets of anemones and cyclamen until we reach our starting point once more.

Even HaEzer Hill

This site is located in the western part of the forest, and in order to reach it we must leave the forest by the main entrance, continue straight on at the traffic lights to Nahal Raba Street (a distance of around 200 meters), then turn right at the first opportunity into Zionism Avenue (Sderot HaTzionut). At the end of the avenue, near the cemetery, we turn right towards the forest and park in the nearby parking lot. We pass the barrier and enter the forest on foot, continuing to walk until we reach the Levitan Recreation Area.

The Even HaEzer Path begins just near the road and the recreation area, and it will take us all the way to the archeological site. The path is indicated by posts marked in black all the way along, and it leads us among clumps of wild flowers: narcissus, cyclamen, anemone and asphodel. Later we pass by the remains of Mahtzevet HaShezafim (“Jujube Tree Quarry”); this is a very attractive spot, but do please keep well clear of the quarry walls, and on no account try to climb them! We emerge on the north side of the quarry on to the broad dirt road and climb to the top of the hill to the Even HaEzer site, where we can see the remains of an ancient structure.

This location, which is referred to today by the Arabic name Izbet Sartah, has been identified as the Biblical site of Even HaEzer (the “Stone of Help” mentioned in 1 Samuel). In the second half of the 1970s excavations were carried out at the site and important artifacts were found from the First Bronze Age, i.e., the middle of the 12th century BCE, which was the period of Israelite settlement after the conquest of the land and the time of David and Solomon’s kingship. The remains of the main building can still be seen, surrounded with pits that were used as granaries for storing wheat and which were sealed off every winter to protect their contents from damage by rain. These early settlers lived off agriculture, raising goats and sheep and growing wheat. In the center, there is a large building surrounded by smaller houses and a large number of granaries situated in the middle of the buildings so they could be defended more easily. The structure of the building is typical of the period, and is of the type referred to as a four-room house.

The most important find at the site was an ostracon (i.e., a piece of pottery) with writing on it that has achieved international fame. The line written at the bottom proved to be the most interesting, as it consists of the letters of the ancient Hebrew alphabet, and researchers believe that the entire “document” is a writing exercise composed by a pupil who practiced his letters by writing out the alphabet of his time.

This find is considered to be one of the earliest examples of Hebrew script, and it is on display at the Land of Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. The Even HaEzer area was the site of two important battles between the Israelites and the Philistines, one of which culminated in the capture of the Ark of the Covenant. The site is cared for and maintained by the teachers and students of Rosh HaAyin’s Afeq Ecological Experimental School. Looking westwards from the top of the hill, the visitor has a view of the Coastal Plain and the Gush Dan area. In spring and autumn, however, the most interesting view is the one to be seen in the sky, as hundreds of thousands of migrating birds pass over Rosh HaAyin Forest, which lies directly below one of their migration routes.