A Walk in Rosh HaAyin Community Forest

Difficulty: Basic| Length of time required: 1-2 hours| Area: Central Israel; Sharon region | Recommended Season: All year round | Type of route: Picnics, scenery and observation points, circular route, flowers, history, art
Photograph: Yakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Photograph: Yakov Shkolnik, KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Rosh HaAyin Community Forest offers footpaths, archeological sites and picnic areas. In springtime wildflowers burst into colorful bloom, and during the migration season flocks of raptors and storks pass through the skies overhead.

The forest enfolds the northern neighborhoods of the city – Givat HaSla‘im, Givat Tal and Neveh Afek – in a green embrace. The Jewish National Fund began planting the forest in 1976, and today it covers an area of 1,050 dunam (approx. 262 acres) across the western slopes of the Samarian Hills that descend to the Coastal Plain. Nahal Raba (the Raba Stream), a tributary of the Yarkon River, crosses the city.
From the Kesem Interchange (Highways 6, 444 and 5), drive east along the Trans-Samaria Highway (Highway no. 5) towards Ariel. At the Rosh HaAyin East interchange, opposite Afek Industrial Park, turn right (south) on Kibbutz Galuyiot Street and drive for 1.3 kilometers to the junction with Nahal Raba Street. To enter the forest you need to turn left, but because of a “no left turn” sign you will have to continue to the right along Nahal Raba Street until the traffic circle, where you can turn around, drive back to the traffic light at the entrance and continue straight on into the forest.

If you are approaching from the direction of Rosh HaAyin, you will drive down Nahal Raba Street and, when you come to the end, continue straight on into the forest. 
A trip through Rosh HaAyin Community Forest
Follow the forest trail into the woodland and drive eastwards. After 400 meters you will reach a junction. Take the right-hand fork, and after 100 meters you will come to the In the Shade of the Eucalypts Recreation Area, which fully lives up to its name. Around 200 meters further on, after crossing the Raba Stream and turning left, you will come to another recreation area, which is accessible to people with disabilities. A green barrier blocks the way and allows access to pedestrians and cyclists only. Continue on foot along the woodland trail for another 400 meters, to the start of the Wildflower Trail.
The Wildflower Trail and Hurvat Dayar
Before us lies a circular trail marked in red and signposted along its entire length – one kilometer. While this route is suitable for walking all year round, in winter and spring it becomes more attractively colorful as cyclamen, red and white anemones, tulips, different species of bee orchid and many other wildflowers burst into bloom. In autumn, tall flowering sea squills (Urginea maritima) line the sides of path, while in March and April the blue flowers of the hyacinth squill (Scilla hyacinthoides) make their appearance.

The slopes of this part of western Samaria are formed of hard gray, sometimes dolomitic, chalk – a rock formation known as bi‘na or bina, which is characterized by sharp protruding outcrops. An example of this can be observed in a rock that juts out close to path on the left, about 300 meters from the start of the wildflower trail. Dark lentils of flint can be observed in the composition of this very prominent rock, which, thanks to the soil accumulated in its concavities, has been transformed into a natural flower pot in which cyclamen, small-flowered vagaria (Vagaria parviflora) and other plants are growing.

At the top of the hill the path brings us to the Ilan Scenic Lookout constructed at the site by KKL-JNF. The lookout’s observation deck overlooks the slopes of western Samaria, and at its foot lie the Dayar Ruins (Hurvat Dayar), where the remains of a settlement from the Byzantine period (around 1,500 years ago) can be seen. The original name of this settlement is unknown, and the name by which it is known today preserves the sound of the Arabic name of the site – Khirbet al-Dawir. The ruins include the remains of an olive press and buildings of which a few courses of brick walls built from large unhewn stones have been preserved. A cistern for collecting rainwater completes the picture.

From here we follow the marked path downhill to a dirt road, from which we turn right to join up with the continuation of the Wildflower Trail. The trail leads us down steps made of natural stone (take care not to slip when they are wet after rain!) Here we can observe how creepers such as winter-flowering clematis (Clematis cirrhosa) and rough bindweed (Smilax aspera) have woven their way up into the forest trees. The path ends at the same point it started. 

Izbet Sarta
The Izbet Sarta site lies in the western section of Rosh HaAyin Forest. To reach it, we need to leave the main part of the forest and drive straight ahead along Nahal Raba Road. After 600 meters, at the first traffic circle, turn right at Derekh HaTzionut, continue to the end of the avenue and there turn right again and park at the foot of the forest.

A short footpath, known as the Even HaEzer Footpath, passes by a parking area and ascends to the Izbet Sarta site, which overlooks Highway no. 5 and the industrial zone. At the site are the remains of a large building surrounded by circular holes in the ground.

Archeological excavations in the 1970s revealed that this site was inhabited from 1200 until 1000 BCE. The remains of simple dwellings, apparently for shepherds, from the start of that period were found. During the second half of the 10th century, the settlement flourished and reached its peak. The remains of a building containing four spaces – a style of construction characteristic of the Israelite era – were found at the site, adjacent to dozens of circular holes in the ground that served as grain storage silos. In one of these granaries a piece of pottery was discovered, bearing Hebrew letters that could not be construed to form a complete sentence.

The discovery of an inscription at such a marginal site is evidence of literacy in Judea and Israel at a very early period, and shows that writing had already reached Israelite settlements.

Izbet Sarta is sometimes identified as the Biblical Even HaEzer, where the Israelites fought the Philistines. The Bible mentions two battles, in the first of which the Philistines were victorious. When the Israelites deployed for battle once again, they brought the Ark of the Covenant along with them. However, the Philistines were once more victorious, and they carried the Ark off as booty.

We return to our vehicle the same way we came. The path is about 600 meters long each way, and it is indicated by black trail markings. At the site is a sign that provides detailed explanations.
Rosh HaAyin Forest: A community forest
On Tu BiShvat 2004, the Rosh HaAyin woodland was declared a community forest, a designation that meant that local people would become involved in its management. Today the site is managed by KKL-JNF, Rosh HaAyin Municipality and residents of the city. Some members of the local community serve as “trustees” for the forest, helping to care for it and acting as guides and instructors for others. On the initiative of the municipality and KKL-JNF, community events such as Tu BiShvat celebrations – with music, tree-planting and educational woodland-awareness activities for local schoolchildren – are held in the forest each year.

Text and photographs: Yaakov Skolnik
Published: March 28, 2018
Updated: May 12th, 2021

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