By Robin B. Zeiger, Ph.D.
I am now on a mission - to discover the hidden secrets of Emek Hefer and share them with my readers in Richmond. Then, when ya'all come and visit, I can direct to our secret spots. Jonathan and I began our journey of discovery over Chol Ha'Moed Sukkot. We snuck away alone, without "help" from our children" for our own private hike along nearby Nahal Alexander. (The River Alexander).
We were not disappointed by our trek through the nature preserve, a popular spot for hiking, biking, and picnicking.
Jonathan and I had chosen a very quiet day for our trek. Thus, the good news was that we were alone much of the time. We treasure peace and tranquility and can easily find this in Emek Hefer.
After battling traffic, honking, craziness in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, we are always happy to return to our home in K'far Ha"roeh, where we can actually hear the chickens and the cows.
Surrounding the river is grassy banks and lush greenery and the fruits of the land of Israel. On a previous visit to the area, I actually savored some grapes growing nearby. As we hiked this time, I admired the tall reeds and imaged the story of baby Moses hidden alongside a similar riverbed along the Nile.
On our trek, we set out with a destiny in mind - to reach the Turtle Bridge. This bridge boasts of some very interesting history. It was built in 1930 by K'far Vitkin settlers (another small village in Emek Hefer). Most importantly, it is one of the only places in Israel where the soft-shelled turtle can be observed. This species of turtle, originally from the lakes of East Africa, grows to a length of about three feet and a weight of 110 pounds. In late spring, the female turtle lays its eggs in dents it digs in the river banks. After two months the small turtles hatch and run to the water.
In 1991, Nahal Alexander became famous for a preservation effort. The river was flooded by enormous rainfall, and most of its soft-shelled turtle population drifted into the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, serious pollution endangered the turtles such that the eggs that were left would not hatch. The Israel Nature & National Parks Authority launched a project to collect the turtle eggs, incubate them in a superficial environment and eventually return the turtles to the water.
In addition, Nahal Alexander has another claim to fame. It was part of a cleanup project that won first prize in 2003 in the Riverprize environmental rehabilitation competition in Australia.
Nahal Shechem,, a tributary of Nahal Alexander, was severely polluted by processed olive and stonework industries in the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Tulkarm, In 1995 it was also being polluted by factories in Emek Hefer. The international prize recognized the joint efforts of the Palestinians and the Israelis to clean up the river.
With this history in mind, Jonathan and I reached the Turtle Bridge and were awed by the sites.
The turtles were magnificent.. Young children and their families watched these large creatures with fascination. (Most of these folks took the easy way and drove to the Turtle Bridge). The area is beautifully designed with benches and a nearby watch tower.
And there was even an enterprising ice-cream vendor to tempt us. No, we didn't indulge. It would ruin the benefits of our good exercise!!!
Now I have the seeds of an idea for our next hike. Our friends tell us it is possible to continue on the same path all the way to Netanya and the sea. It has finally cooled down a bit, so it is really sounding good. Looking forward to sending pictures home to Richmond!