Shokeda forest, Picnics and Play among the Anemones, for All

Tuesday, March 05, 2019 1:38 PM

A disabled-accessible recreation area, complete with picnic site and adventure playground, is planned for Shokeda Forest, some six kilometers distant from Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.

The new recreation area is expected to attract large numbers of visitors to the forest throughout the year, and especially in winter, when the anemones are in bloom. The site will include accessible playground equipment, extreme sports facilities, paths, seating areas and picnic tables.

The site is designed for both local residents and visitors from all over Israel. KKL-JNF Southern Region architect Nili Stern-Biber explains: “When the anemones flower, people from all over the country come to visit the forest, and the new recreation area will offer them an attractive leisure venue amidst natural surroundings.”

KKL-JNF began to plant the Western Negev’s Shokeda Forest in the 1950s, and in recent years, with the help of residents of the nearby Moshav Shokeda, Moshav Kfar Maimon and Kibbutz Alumim, it has become a community forest. The woodland includes eucalypts, tamarisks, pines and casuarinas, and it is studded with well-preserved heritage sites, play areas, picnic sites and cycling trails.

The picnic area and playground will be established at one of the Scarlet South (‘Darom Adom’) Festival’s main sites. The festival, which takes place in February every year when the anemones are in bloom, attracts tens of thousands of people, and at the weekends the forest is transformed into a vast playground and events arena. Clowns, jugglers, costumed actors, bouncy inflatables, pony rides and a farmers’ market are just a few of the attractions that turn a woodland visit into a memorable outing for all the family. But, with all due respect to this impressive production, the creation of the forest’s main attraction – the magnificent carpets of scarlet anemones – requires no human intervention.

Shir Ziwy and Kesem Kraus of Beersheba took a half day off from work to come and see the anemones, and, naturally, Luka the dog didn’t miss this opportunity and came along with them. “Getting out of the city and into nature gives us a sense of freedom,” said Kesem Kraus. “It’s important to take a break from routine every now and again.” 

The plans for the new recreation area place special emphasis on making the site user-friendly for people with disabilities, by providing an accessible playground area and parking lot, together with picnic tables suitable for those in wheelchairs. “It’s important to us to open up the forest to everyone and invite people with disabilities to come here, too,” said Nili Stern-Biber.

“It’s important to us to open up the forest to everyone and invite people with disabilities to come here, too” .
 Nili Stern-Biber, KKL-JNF Southern Region architect

During our visit, a group of pupils from Beersheba’s HaShahar School for children with developmental issues arrived at the site. The youngsters alighted from the bus and settled down for a picnic. Unfortunately, as the site is not yet disabled-accessible, the children with mobility problems had trouble joining their friends for an enjoyable excursion. The addition of the new accessible recreation area is expected to solve such problems.

School Principal Sima Cherniak told us: “It’s important for every child to get out into the countryside, and even more so for our children. They must be given the opportunity to enjoy nature, breathe in the fresh air, smell the flowers and enjoy the view.”

At picnic tables close to those where the children were seated, a group of mentally challenged visitors from Netivot had gathered, and two more buses that pulled up in the parking lot discharged a large group of senior citizens who set out with whoops of delight to explore the forest.

Amichai Lazar of Moshav Tekuma regards the new recreation area as having two important advantages: “As a resident of the area, I know that this will be a wonderful place to spend time with the children. When the security situation is tense we can’t go outdoors, and so its very important that when we can go out for walks we have beautiful places like this to visit,” he said. “Moreover, the recreation area will obviously attract visitors from elsewhere. Tourism boosts the economy of the Gaza Envelope communities and, no less importantly: people who come to visit here will get to know these communities and understand the complexity of life in this part of the country.”

The anemone season is nearing its end, even though the green fields all around are still flecked with numerous red patches. On this routine weekday morning, the forest is full of visitors. At present the recreation area boasts only a few picnic tables and rubbish bins, but it is not hard to imagine the great potential of this site once a new accessible park and playground have been added to it.

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