Preserving the Ecosystem in Shafir Winter Pond Park

Sunday, June 03, 2012 11:54 AM

KKL-JNF inaugurated the Winter Pond in the Shafir Regional Council, which was rehabilitated and improved with the assistance of friends of KKL-JNF in Scotland.


Cutting the ribbon at Shafir Winter Pond. Photo: Yoav Devir

This week, KKL-JNF inaugurated the Winter Pond in the Shafir Regional Council, which was rehabilitated and improved with the assistance of friends of KKL-JNF in Scotland. The ceremony was attended by KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler, Regional Council Chairman Asher Abergil, representatives from the organizations involved in the project, and local schoolchildren.
The pool is in the heart of a beautiful park, which covers an area of 50 dunams (12 acres) and includes a pier, a covered observation deck, which also serves as an ecology classroom, an open theatre, benches shaded by old and new trees, and trails for hikes and bikes. Soon it will also include a playground for children.
In 1949, pioneers began to settle the Shafir Valley, and they discovered the Winter Pond. The 1950 master plan of the Regional Council included the Winter Pond as an existing site intended for preservation as a park. Over the years, the Winter Pond served local elementary and high school students as a place for events and ceremonies.
Pursuant to development of the area, drainage of rainwater was diverted, and the Winter Pond dried up. Israel had many winter ponds in the past, but most of them have disappeared because of building and development.
However, thanks to the joint efforts of the Shafir Regional Council, KKL-JNF Israel and Scotland, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Sorek-Lachish Drainage Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the site has been rehabilitated, and the Winter Pond has come back to life.

View of Shafir Winter Pond. Photo: Yoav Devir

The original route of the brook that drains into the Winter Pond was restored, and this winter, the Winter Pond filled up after only ten days of seasonal rain. Now, although it is already late spring, it still contains a great deal of water, and it is not expected to dry up completely until late summer.
“The sound of frogs croaking used to be an integral part of life all over Israel, in urban as well as rural areas,” said KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler. “These sounds are almost unheard nowadays, because we have destroyed the habitats of frogs and many other wildlife species with our own hands.” Stenzler thanked the friends of KKL-JNF in Scotland, whose support made this important project possible. He also noted that KKL-JNF is involved in many other projects in the region, including the Hodaya Recreation Area and the Carmon Waste Facility.
The Winter Pond is a seasonal habitat, which gets flooded with water in winter and dries up gradually during spring and summer. It sustains a fascinating interaction between water, flora and fauna. For example, it has unique crabs which hatch from eggs that can endure hot and dry weather. Many species can be found here, such as tree frogs, water fleas, dragonflies, little egrets, as well as other birds, amphibians and insects.
Most of Israel’s amphibians reproduce in winter ponds, and in the summer, when the ponds dry up, they are either dormant or they burrow underground. Many water birds also enjoy the ponds for rest and refreshment.
The head of the Shafir Regional Council, Asher Abergil, who was one of the initiators of the project, noted the connection of water to the festival of Shavuot, which took place a few days before the ceremony. “Water is especially valued in our tradition. King David said, ‘He shall be as a tree planted on streams of water.’”

Unveiling the honorary donor sign. Photo: Dudu Grinshpan

The Regional Council Chairman said that the Shafir schoolchildren used to cut school, climb over the fence, and float on the water in rafts. “Today we have a wooden bridge from the school to the Winter Pond, and the children go there for ecology lessons, which take place right on the edge of the water.”
In addition to the educational activities, the site also serves as a tourist attraction for visitors from all over Israel, and as a leisure site in nature for local residents. Due to its proximity to the nearby religious communities of Merkaz Shapira and Ein Tzurim, families can come to the Winter Pond on Saturdays by foot.
Obviously, turning the park into a busy destination for visitors necessitated increased maintenance and sanitation. The schoolchildren were recruited for the task and became the caretakers of the park as part of an environmental educational program. These schoolchildren proved that they could also sing, and they participated in the ceremony by singing beautiful songs about nature.
Yossi Yishai, Director General of the Ministry of Agriculture, said that the aim of the Ministry is “to paint Israel green and blue.” He also said that the principal partners in this effort are KKL-JNF and the regional councils.
“Israel does not abound in petroleum or gold, but it does have extraordinary human resources,” said Shmulik Rifman, Chairman of the Regional Councils of Israel. He congratulated KKL-JNF, which he described as “a veteran organization that knows how to adapt itself to the time, place and changing needs of Israel.”

Old-timer Amos Guetta.
Photo: Yoav Devir

KKL-JNF Region Director Elisha Mizrahi, who emceed the ceremony, quoted from a book by Alon Tal, a member of the KKL-JNF executive, about the role of people in rehabilitating natural resources, rivers and water sources. As for the Winter Pond, Mizrahi said, “This is not just a pretty site but also a special ecosystem. Both the flood season and the dry season have important ecological functions. There are particular species that live here, which are adapted to temporary water sources and do not develop in other habitats. Some of them are endangered species.”
Yigal Ben-Ari, of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, also noted the importance of the Winter Pond in protecting endangered species, whose disappearance could affect the entire ecosystem. He said that the project was a result of cooperation between various organizations, and he expressed his hope that it would be a harbinger for many further collaborations.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, after cutting the ribbon and unveiling the plaque in appreciation of the donors from KKL-JNF Scotland, we met an especially delighted man among the many people who attended the event. Amos Guetta, from Moshav Uza, who is known by all his friends as Bashuni, had gone to the Shafir School in the 1950s, and he remembered the place very well. “We would come here when we were kids and play in the water. We called it a lake, and for me it is still a lake, not a pond. Being here today brought back wonderful childhood memories, as though it were fifty years ago again.”