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JNF Makes Israel's Forests, Parks and Nature Trails Accessible for the Physically Challenged
By Sarina Roffé

An Israeli ParkJust a few decades ago curb cuts and other modifications for the disabled were considered revolutionary. But as curb cuts in the sidewalks and ramps to buildings have slowly appeared, their usefulness has been widespread, not only for the wheelchair bound, but also for mothers walking children in strollers, bike riders, senior citizens who can walk but need a flat surface, and other populations.

Jewish National Fund has met the challenge by designing facilities such as parks, picnic areas, playgrounds, leisure corners, nature trails, lookouts and other recreational facilities in Israel - that meet the needs of everyone, including the physically challenged.

For example, picnic tables and barbecue installations are built and placed to suit wheelchairs and special playground and sport structures have been installed. Projects for the visually challenged have explanatory signs in Braille and landscaping focuses on aromatic plants, whose strong aroma heightens the sensory experience. Nature trails are paved for easier access for the wheelchair bound as well as strategically placed rest rooms. These developments have opened many new recreational opportunities in nature for challenged individuals.

“This was the first time I was able to walk through the forest with my children. Until now, I could only go four or five meters away from my car. This is the first place that I was able to actually go in nature and appreciate its natural vistas,” said Gil Amzalag, a visitor to the forest from Kfar Baruh who is confined to a wheelchair.

Examples of JNF’s work on behalf of the disabled can be seen all over Israel including in Menashe Forests Park, Shemshit Forest, Beit Keshet Forest Scenic Route, Havurit and Ben Shemen Forests, Lake Hula Bird Observatory, as well as numerous playgrounds, parks and picnic areas that are appreciated by the disabled. JNF has partnered with the Organization of IDF Disabled, Hadassah Women’s Organization and other groups to complete these projects.

Haruvit Forest

Swing in Haruvit ForestOne of JNF’s  largest and most important projects to benefit Israel’s disabled population is the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) Disabled Veterans’ Park (Park Halohem in Hebrew) in the Haruvit Forest built in cooperation with the Organization of IDF Disabled and Hadassah Women’s Organization.

Haruvit Forest is located in the center of the country, between Beit Shemesh and Re’em (Masmiya) Junction.  Conifers, cypresses and Jerusalem pines as well as wide stretches of broad-leafed trees such as the eucalyptus and the carob grow among the parks 2,000 acres. Fruit trees grow alongside abandoned agricultural terraces. 

 “The Warrior’s Park” in the heart of the forest covers 75 acres. It contains scores of picnic sites, adapted specially for the physically challenged, including restrooms, paved paths with a slight slope, picnic and barbeque corners. A special feature of this park is game elements  such as fitness equipment, target shooting, as well as swings and slides, that can be enjoyed by someone confined to a wheel chair. A broad asphalt path, over a kilometer in length, makes a real outing in the beautiful forest possible. 

“The Disabled Veterans’ Park Road” is a main artery built through the forest for vehicles that is reached by an avenue of well-tended carob trees.  This route was planned so that its inclines allow wheelchairs to move easily along it.  Those traversing the forest’s paths can see an ancient winepress, a karst cave, old terraces and ancient water holes.

Along the next stretch of the main route, there are more than 50 picnic corners for families, with parking for their car next to the picnic table in an area covered with Jerusalem pines. A playground adapted for physically handicapped children is located nearby.

With funding from Hadassah Women’s Organization, JNF built a 1.5 km walking route for the visually impaired that features varied trees and aromatic vegetation, including narcissi, cyclamens and poppies,  as well as scattered benches for rest stops.   The path divides into two special paths “the Visual Path” and “The Sound Path” - that merge into the park’s main traffic artery.  “The Visual Path” features the work of sculptress Tsippora Gendler and has sculptures resembling masks, which provide a visual experience and are placed for easy viewing by the wheelchair-bound. “The Sound Path” incorporates sculptures that produce a sound experience that can also be enjoyed by the vision-impaired. In the very near future the “Outdoor Gymnasium,” a recreation area with 10 15 wooden apparatuses, specially adapted for those with physical disabilities, will be added.
Menashe Forests Park
In the 20,000 acres Menashe Forests Park, JNF designed a unique trail for the disabled that meanders along the Nahal Hashofet stream so visitors can see flowers the riverbank flora. A wheelchair accessible trail leads from the Nachal Shofet waterfall and wading pool through enchanting shrubbery past dense reeds and flourmills to Ein Ami near Kibbutz HaZorea.

In the first of its three stages, 800 meters have been paved so that the base is flat and stabilized with the water level.  A wooden path is being constructed along the riverbed with benches and resting spots along the path. The second phase will include a trail leading to the mountaintop and the third phase will have a trail into the Nahal Senin region. The site is rich with walking trails and breathtaking scenery, all suitable for the disabled. Riverbank vegetation includes fig trees, where one sees the first fruits in spring and ripe fruits in the summer. Fig trees are one of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised . Wooden bridges that blend with the site’s natural beauty were erected over many sections of the streambed. JNF and the Lotem Foundation partnered for this project.

Shimshit Forest

Shimshit Forest, located on archaeological remains,  has a unique 1 km asphalt paved trail adapted for the physically challenged through the shade of conifers, oaks, pines, terebinths, cedars, and eucalyptus trees, to mention only a few. Recently, indigenous species have been planted. The forest also boasts wildlife, including foxes, jackals, porcupines, and many types of birds. The trail continues deeper into the forest, gradually descending to a scenic lookout point, from which it is possible to view the neighboring oak forest and a cotton field.

Lake Hula Bird Observatory

On Road 90, just north of Yesud Hamaala, vehicles can approach very close to the pools where, for most of the year, large flocks of birds, mainly pelicans and water fowl, can be seen. The access path to the observation balcony is closed to vehicles but the supervisors of the Reserve open it for the physically challenged.  The path leading up to the observation balcony is asphalted, and the balcony itself is constructed in such a way that one can also enjoy the sights when seated in a wheel chair.

Beit Keshet Forest Scenic Route

The Alonei Beit Keshet observation point in the center of the 15 km scenic route that passes Tabor Oaks and overlooks the Lower Galilee and the hills of Nazareth, contains a beautiful scenic promenade, a paved and roofed plaza and a paved and secured access road that is handicapped accessible. In addition, the Forester’s House Picnic Site along the route has been adapted for the physically challenged with a special picnic plaza with round tables, suitable restrooms, an asphalted path of almost 1 km with an appropriate slope and a covered scenic balcony. 

Ben Shemen Forest

Ben Shemen Forest, the largest park in Israel. has a section especially adapted for the visually impaired, where every path is lined by a chain which can be of assistance to those who do not see the way, with a warning (a change in the walking surface) before each turn.  Along the path are prominent explanatory signs about the trees of natural woodland and the surrounding vegetation. Through smell, the visually impaired can identify various herbs. There are large print signs explaining the rocks and wind chimes wind emit soft, pleasant sounds and mark the beginning of the road and prominent stations along it. 

Hadassah Picnic Site

A picnic site adapted for the physically challenged, between the villages of Bar Giora and Nes Harim, overlooking Nachal Soreq and the Jerusalem Hills.  A balcony and observation point, made of wooden slats and easy for wheel chairs, with outlook positions of a suitable height for a sitting person.  Paved paths, prominently marked in red, come from Road 375 and turn at the Bar Giora Junction towards Road 3866, about half-a-kilometer past Har Behar, where there is a coffee shop and a pleasant spot which also has restrooms adapted for the use of the physically challenged.

Conclusion
These are just some of the sites which have been made suitable for the physically challenged population and yet others are in the process of being improved and adapted.  At some of the sites, JNF arranges guided tours and events from time to time.

Other projects of Jewish National Fund that are accessible include Adamit Park, Sapir Park, Goren Park, and Terebinths and Ein Zeitim Picnic Sites. JNF is also beginning construction of Aleh Negev Rehabilitative Village for People with Special Needs, the first village for  children in need of intense nursing care to live in a beautiful, peaceful, open environment, rather than in a hospital ward.

 

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