Switzerland Forest - Protecting the Forest, Enjoying Nature
At first glance, Switzerland Forest appears to be a typical KKL-JNF site with a pleasant view and rural recreation facilities – a combination of man-made forest and natural Israeli woodland with footpaths, recreational areas, lookout points, picnic spots and children’s playgrounds. But in actuality, this forest was not planted solely for recreational purposes: it is also designed to protect the residents of Tiberias from landslides.
Did You Know?
A view over the Kinneret. Photo: Michael Huri
Planting and soil-preservation work in the area was begun by the British Mandate’s Department of Forestry in 1927, but in 1934, twenty-five people were killed by a landslide when earth and rocks tumbled down into Tiberias. Ever since then, KKL-JNF, with the help of its friends in Switzerland, has been implementing numerous projects in the area, including drainage renewal, erosion prevention and the care and development of the local forest.
Switzerland Forest lies on the western edge of the Great Rift Valley. These steep slopes were created when the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) basin sank and Mount Arbel and Mount Berenice rose, and the average difference in altitude is now 450 meters (from 210 meters below sea level to 240 meters above it); the gradient reaches 80% in some places.
The climate in this region is characterized by cloudbursts and heavy downpours as cold damp air from the Mediterranean Sea encounters the warm air rising from the Kinneret, sometimes resulting in dozens of millimeters of rainfall within a very brief period of time. These features, together with the structure and composition of the soil, present a serious drainage and erosion problem, and the roots of the local trees play a major role in preventing landslides. In the 1960s, trees in the forest were observed to be atrophying, mainly because they belonged to species, such as the pine, that are unsuited to local conditions. Wildfires and uncontrolled grazing had also caused serious damage.
A Protective Forest
Aqueduct to regulate water flow. Photo: Yoav Devir
KKL-JNF set to work creating roads, remodeling the catchment basin and planting the area with trees appropriate to this particular habitat: cypresses, eucalypti, acacias and native Israeli woodland trees such as jujube, carob and Mount Atlas mastic. Water flow was regulated on the basis of the natural gullies and the existing pathway system in order to prevent undermining and erosion of the soil. Aqueducts were built, steep hillsides were shored up with large rocks and the slope of roads and paths was altered so that they inclined towards the hill.
Uzi Eliyahu, a KKL-JNF forester responsible for Switzerland Forest, says that planting in these difficult conditions was a major challenge for himself and his colleagues. “One of the differences between planting in this area and others is that here we don’t spray against weeds and grasses, because when the ground is bare erosion increases,” the veteran forester explained.
Thanks to these projects designed to prevent landslides, local residents and the many visitors to the area can enjoy a recreational site that is rich in vegetation and equipped with vehicle-access roads, footpaths and cycle paths. Last Tu BiShvat, local schoolchildren planted herbs in the forest, and these plants, too, will help to stabilize the soil and make the locality greener.
A Place to Play
Picnic ground in Switzerland Forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Nahshon Ronkin, 64, from Tiberias, often walks in the forest. We met him near the recreation area and playground established in memory of Robert Kostenbaum of Geneva. “This is a great place to get in touch with nature and the landscape,” he told us. “There are wonderful little corners here that KKL-JNF has developed, and every time I come here, I read the plaques that express appreciation for the donors and think about the people behind the names, thanks to whom we have such a beautiful forest.”
At the forest’s principal lookout point, which was created with the help of Menashe Ben Yosef (Sigmund) Weiner of Lucerne, a donor-appreciation center has been established, and the visitor can read the many dozens of names of donors from the various communities in Switzerland.
A pleasant footpath several hundred meters long leads from the main lookout point to the two-storey observation area. En route, we pass numerous cypress trees belonging to the Tetraclinis variety that originated in Africa, which is resistant to the difficult conditions of this region.
KKL-JNF recently completed the construction of an overnight campsite in the forest, designed for hikers using the Israel Trail that extends the whole length of the country from north to south. The site includes plots on which tents can be pitched, bordered by decorative stone walls. Water and toilet facilities are planned for the near future. It is not hard to imagine how exciting it must be to get up in the morning, emerge from your tent and look straight out over the enchanted Kinneret landscape. The old three-level recreational area is nearby, and visitors can still enjoy its three vantage points overlooking the Kinneret.
The campsite is surrounded by ancient olive and carob trees that KKL-JNF has transplanted from the environs of Poriya Hospital, where development work is underway. Even when a complex task is involved, KKL-JNF fights for the life of every single tree. A special water tanker arrives every few days to irrigate the trees, and will continue to do so until their acclimation process is complete.
The cycle path that passes near the campsite is also the creation of KKL-JNF. Surfaced with asphalt, it is designed for family outings, measures five and a half kilometers in length and joins up partially with the Israel Trail. The next stage is the construction of a plaza at the start of the cycle path, just where forest and city meet. A large municipal park is planned for the area nearby, in conjunction with Tiberias Municipality.
“All the work done here is the result of profound consideration as to how it will affect water flow,” Eliyahu the forester emphasizes. “Of course, this makes the projects more costly and more complex, but we never forget for a moment that this forest is vital not just as a recreational venue but above all as a safeguard for Tiberias and a protection against landslides.”
What Visitors and Locals Say
Lookout Point. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
Sixty-nine-year-old Tiberias resident Amnon Seide
knows every path in the forest. “What we have here is a real gem,” he says. “I’ve been walking here every day for decades, and you can really feel the significant changes that KKL-JNF is making. It’s very important to the residents of Tiberias that they’ve got somewhere to go. No less important, the forest attracts visitors to the area, and this contributes to the economy of our town.”
KKL-JNF workers had just arrived at the Max and Margot Guttman (of Basel) recreational area to replace the old rubbish bins, and while we were there, the KKL-JNF refuse-collection vehicle came along. It made its way from one area to the next, emptying the bins that had filled up as crowds of tourists thronged the forest over the weekend. The forest is constantly cared for and maintained in this way so as to ensure that its various sites are kept clean and tidy.
A group of young friends from Haifa arrived at the Guttman recreational area. Among them was Igor Marchav
, who despite being on crutches as the result of an injury, had not even contemplated giving up a fun day in the forest. “Every week we go out to a different place,” he said. “Often we choose KKL-JNF sites. They’re convenient and accessible and have a lot of places where we can enjoy ourselves in natural surroundings.” Emile Diab,
from Haifa, had also come to the Guttman recreational area. “There’s a wonderful view from here,” he said. “Just like Switzerland.”
A view of the Kinneret from the forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
• Special Sites in the Forest: Scenic Road, Ein Poriah (Ein Kadesh).
• Facilities: Restroom, Picinic - Camping area, Archeological or Historic site, Lookout, Marked path.
• Additional Sites in the Vicinity: Hatzar Kinneret, Moshava Kinneret, Kinneret Cemetery, Tomb of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness.
• How to get there? The Switzerland Forest scenic road branches off the access road to the Poriah Hostel, which descends from Poriah to the Kinneret (7677) and can be reached from the road that goes north from Alumot Junction to Poriah (768).
- From the Sea of Galilee, by the Berenice Beach, near the Poriah Hostel, follow the signs to Switzerland Forest.
- From Tiberias follow the scenic road from the Har Nof School, which can be accessed near the fire station on the road from Poriah Junction to Tiberias.