Every community forest has its own beauty and character, natural treasures, landscape gems, and heritage sites. All together create an attractive image, help brand and market the forest, and are a drawing card for the community and source of pride and identification.
KKL-JNF conducts professional surveys to take and document the inventory of community forests. The information gathered helps plan forest activities and protect the assets to be conserved. It underpins decisions about situating a rest area, charting a path, or closing sites to vehicles in order to preserve natural and scenic assets for public relaxation. One good example is the orchid survey at Shlomi Forest: At KKL-JNF’s initiative, more than 100 botanists, students and nature lovers surveyed every corner of the forest for rare plant species and orchids. A number of orchid species were discovered and, with the help of the community and students, a footpath was built enabling forest visitors to revel in the blooms. At Azrikam Forest, a Long-Term Ecological Research - Educational (LTER-EDU) station is being established for ecological-educational research and long-term monitoring. The station will help pupils of Be’er Tuvia High School to collect data on the ecological processes occurring in the forest and to study environmental related topics.
Locals involved in the planning of a community forest. Photo: Moshe Sheller, KKL-JNF Jerusalem
While community forests are not large, they harbor niches and alcoves, lovely “surprises” accessible by foot: Wildflowers, lookouts, archeological remains, interesting rock formations and nooks of peace and quiet. KKL-JNF foresters and community residents, especially pupils and youth, chart footpaths to these sites. Footpaths merge residential boundaries and forests as living sites humming with activity. They may join up with city walkways, connecting all parts of a community. The Cyclamen Path in Migdal HaEmek Forest, for example, and the Even HaEzer Path in Rosh HaAyin Forest were built with community residents and schools. A survey conducted by KKL-JNF and the Hebrew University in 2006 in three communities with adjoining forests found that some 70% of the visitors utilize the footpaths when visiting forests.
Community forests are also ideal sites for encouragement of a healthy lifestyle."Walking for health” Paths, co-initiated with the Israel Heart Society and the Israel Association of Community Centers, exist in Holland Park in Eilat, in HaShalom Park in Nitzana, in the Kokhav Ya’ir-Tzur Yigal Forest, at Azrikam Forest, at Meitar Forest, on Mt. Eitan (near Mevasseret Jerusalem) and at Zippori Forest around the community of Shimshit.
Community forests are an ideal place for cross-country runs because of their proximity to residential neighborhoods. To create cross-country running trails, flat terrain is needed. Partially, the trail can overlap multi-purpose forest roads. It should be circular, starting and ending at the main picnic area. It should also be signposted with a special symbol for cross-country runs and distance markers. For example, at the Rosh HaAyin Forest, the municipal sports department introduced a unique run for women only and held in November, the international month for the Prevention of Family Violence.
Biking has also become a popular sport in Israel as tens of thousands of riders seek out forests and open spaces. In community forests as in other KKL-JNF forests, there is extensive riding activity: Community riding clubs have made their community forests riding sites of their choice. At Migdal HaEmek Forest, a 15-kilometer, circular trail offers challenging ups and downs, eliciting eager cries. It surrounds the town, crossing green landscapes and open spaces with breathtaking lookouts over the Jezreel Valley. The Be’eri Forest Single Track has become a household name, drawing bikers from all over the country, as the Shoham Forest - where annual national meets for mountain bikers. Rosh Zippor Forest, an urban forest in the area of Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv, also boasts a circular two-kilometer trail.
The crowning achievement of all this bicycle activity in community forests and KKL-JNF forests in general is the involvement of residents, riding communities and volunteers in building bicycle trails, and community involvement in maintaining them. “Biking and Building” began at Be’eri Forest and in recent years has become a tradition. It reflects the community contribution to the environment with bikers providing knowledge and experience in the principles of building proper bicycle trails. At Ofakim Park, under the rubric of Community Forest-The Single of Ofakim, volunteers built a 10-kilometer bike trail for the town and its surroundings.
Orienteering, too, has become an important community forest activity because forests are accessible and the sport requires no facilities. It is practiced in organized popular competitions, school meets, and independently by groups or individuals. The Israel Sport Orienteering Association organizes activities and produces forest orienteering maps, such as for Rosh HaAyin, Shoham and Givat HaMoreh forests.
Last but not least, community forests are excellent places for relaxation and creativity, utilizing the forest’s natural materials. This quasi-artistic recycling finds participants fashioning sculptures out of trunks left over after thinning. The pieces express forest and nature motifs, and are placed in attractive alcoves along footpaths, blending in with picnic tables and benches. The modest sculpture garden near Har Adar is the handiwork of community residents initiated into the secrets of wood sculpting at a forest workshop. At another workshop, participants made a joint sculpture. They carved a totem from a large piece of cypress wood (about 10 meters long) symbolizing the harmony of man and nature. Beyond the pleasure of creativity, forest sculpting has become a social event and refuge from daily life. The tap of chisel and hammer is accompanied by flowing talk on the quality of life in the community and generally.