Jezreel Trail: Kfar HaHoresh Forest

The KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail, which is a joint enterprise on the part of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and KKL-JNF, forms a continuous route of about one hundred kilometers in length.



Geographic location: Sea of Galilee, the valleys and lower Galilee
Difficulty: Easy
Target audience: All
Season: All
Track length: 5 km
Duration: 6 hours
Track type: Walking path

Identity Card


Geographic location: Northern Israel – Lower Galilee

Features: Flowers; views and landscapes; history and art

• Recommended season: All year round

The KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail, which is a joint enterprise on the part of the Jezreel Valley Regional Council and KKL-JNF, forms a continuous route of about one hundred kilometers in length. It leads hikers through the landscapes of the Jezreel Valley and the surrounding hills (additional information on the route can be found at the end of this article).

The section of the trail described here, which is about five kilometers long, takes us across the western side of the Nazareth Hills between Kfar HaHoresh and Maalul.

• How to get there:
Access to the starting point:
Turn off Route no. 75 in the direction of Kibbutz Kfar HaHoresh. Continue for about 2 kilometers up the hill, and around 100 meters before the gate into the kibbutz leave your vehicle on the left-hand side of the road, in the little parking area beside the KKL-JNF signs, which provide explanations about Kfar HaHoresh Forest, the Kfar HaHoresh Single-Track Cycle Trail, and the KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail.

Access to the finishing point: About 1.6 kilometers to the west of the entrance to Kibbutz Kfar HaHoresh, turn off Route no. 75 on to the trail that leads to the Mahalul Camp and park immediately at the start of the trail in the parking lot below the Mekorot Water Company’s large pumping facility.

• Please note:
You will need to arrange for a pick-up vehicle to collect you at the end of the route. Alternatively, you can return to the starting point along the route of the Kfar HaHoresh Single-Track Cycle Trail, which is about 4 kilometers in length.

Before setting out we recommend that you call KKL-JNF’s Forest Hotline (Kav LaYaar) at 1-800-350-550 for any updates, such as closures due to extreme weather and any information that may be relevant to your route.



 

Kfar HaHoresh Forest

The stretch of trail before us intersects with the Kfar HaHoresh Single-Track Cycle Trail. As we make our way along our route, we need to follow the orange dot that accompanies the black trail markings all along the way. Before we set out, however, here are a number of useful facts about Kfar HaHoresh Forest, which was one of KKL-JNF’s first woodlands.

The story of the forest begins in 1921, when KKL-JNF acquired around 18,000 dunam (approx. 4,500 acres) of the area known as the Maalul Bloc; the name is taken from that of one of the local Arab villages from which the land was acquired. Ten thousand dunam of this land lay within the Jezreel Valley, while the rest extended over the slopes of a hill to the north.

Moshav Nahalal was founded in the Jezreel Valley that same year. As the hillsides were unsuitable for farming, KKL-JNF decided to plant a forest on them, for fear that, if the land were used only for grazing, the British Mandate authorities would regard it as abandoned by its owners and KKL-JNF would lose its rights to it. To get the job done, KKL-JNF Forestry Director Yosef Weitz signed an agreement with a workers’ organization called “HaKfar” (“The Village”), whose members had made Nahalal their base. Among other things, the organization undertook to establish a plant nursery, plant a forest and build the houses that would form the basis of a new kibbutz that would be named Kfar HaHoresh after the planned woodland.

Planting began in 1931. KKL-JNF paid for everything, including the workers’ salaries. By 1934 around 200,000 trees, including pines, cypresses and carobs, had been planted, together with what were referred to as “fall trees,” i.e., deciduous trees. In 1933 the HaKfar organization left the area, and its workers were replaced by members of the Gimel aliya group of the Gordonia youth movement, who founded Kibbutz Kfar HaHoresh. They continued to plant the forest together with immigrants from the Simonia transit camp (ma’abara) who settled on the slopes of Tel Shimron after the founding of the State of Israel.

Today’s forest at the site in no way resembles the original woodland. In the 1990s this forest, like many others in Israel, suffered from a variety of pest infestations. Cottony cushion scale (Icerya purchasi), an aphid that develops at the base of bunches of pine needles (the needles are usually bunched in clumps of two, three or more within a scaly membrane) caused enormous damage. Entire plots were wiped out and had to be replanted. In the replanted areas KKL-JNF foresters allowed native woodland varieties of tree that had sprung up in the shade of the original forest to continue to grow and replace the dead pines.

To the scenic lookout

The starting point of our excursion is the site of a small, attractive woodland of Atlas cedars (Cedrus atlantica). We should follow the black trail markings with the orange dot on their sides, which will lead us all the way to the end of our route.

Our trail takes us through a forest in which pine trees grow together with representatives of the local Mediterranean woodland such as mastic trees (Pistacia lentiscus), Mediterranean buckthorn (Rhamnus lycioides) and the common climber rough bindweed (Smilax aspera). There are also a number of large Israeli common oaks (Quercus calliprinos), none of whose lower branches have escaped the attentions of the cattle that graze in the woodland.

Those who choose to explore the forest on a Thursday afternoon or a Friday are liable to find themselves slightly intoxicated by the scent of the bread being baked at the Angel-Oranim Bakery, which is easily visible from the path. About 250 meters further on we cross a dirt road and climb up a slope with a forest clearing at the top. A trail with “transparent” markings leads us to the highest point of our route, which is 409 meters above sea level. The sharp-eyed will spot an iron ball firmly embedded in the rock here. This is an old-style triangulation point that may date all the way back to the British Mandate. The view is marvelous. To the east is Kfar HaHoresh with its former health-resort building beside it, which is now the site of the local Al-Shams Arabic-language radio station. Beyond it we can see the houses of Nazareth’s Har Tzameret neighborhood. Sticking up in front of them is Mount Baharan, where the Jezreel Valley Regional Council is planning to establish a new community. To the west lies the village of Ilut. Far away in the north we need mention only a few prominent features that will help us to get our bearings: Kafr Manda with Mount Atzmon looming above it, Kaukab Abu al-Hija and the hills of Upper Galilee.

The Nazareth Hills constitute the southernmost ridge of Lower Galilee. As the Jezreel Valley lies at their foot, the southern expanses are wide open. Nearer at hand we can see the houses of Migdal HaEmek, with, beyond them, Givat HaMoreh, Mount Gilboa, the Hills of Gilead, the peaks of central Samaria to the north of Nablus (!), Ramat Menashe and Mount Carmel.

The remains of the youth movement camp, and Christmas trees, too

Adjacent to the scenic lookout, the footpath takes its leave of the single-track cycle trail, descends through the forest and after about 300 meters, brings us to a broad dirt track. Here we turn left, walk for about 100 meters and then turn right, where the path joins the single track once more. The ruined building beside the trail is all that now remains of a youth-movement camp that operated here until the 1990s. After most of the trees died, the camp was abandoned. Soon perhaps, now that the forest has been restored, youngsters will return to the site.

Our route leads us through a grove of pine and eucalyptus trees and makes its way on to a dirt road. Here we need to ignore the single-track markings and continue along the dirt road for about 400 meters.  To the north of the point at which the trail turns left and climbs a brief slope we can see a forest clearing with a large carob tree in the middle. From here, on a clear winter’s day, beyond Mount Canaan and the saddle between the buildings of Ilut – wonder of wonders – we can see the snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon.

Further up the road, on our right, is a plot of Arizona cypress trees (Cupressus arizonica), a variety notable for its comparatively light-colored foliage and the peeling bark of its trunk. KKL-JNF planted the cypresses close to one another, then thinned them at a later stage by felling the surplus young trees and presenting them to members of the Galilee’s Christian community for use as Christmas trees.

The trail now brings us to a small clump of tall, beautiful Calabrian pine trees (Pinus brutia). At this point we need to remain alert and turn off to the left along a path that descends through the woodland before arriving at an olive grove planted by KKL-JNF in the 1950s. It is best to come here in wintertime, when carpets of anemones are in bloom. After the olive grove, we continue straight along the path until we come to another copse of pines where cyclamen bloom impressively in winter.

Now our trail leads us alongside the fence of the large Mahalul army camp. There’s no need to fear the barking dogs, as they are on the far side of the fence. Don’t be surprised if you see a herd of oryx over there, too: the Nature and Parks Authority has presented the animals to the military camp so that they will eat the grasses and thus reduce the danger of fires. This herd serves as a backup to other breeding nuclei of these rare creatures that are being reared by the Nature and Parks Authority. After briefly skirting the camp, the trail brings us to two large churches that are more or less all that remains of the village of Maalul.

Maalul

The upper church, which served members of the Greek Orthodox community, is a large structure whose outer walls are supported by retaining walls. One of the supports in the southern wall underpins a small bell tower. In what was once the churchyard, we come across a covered water cistern.

The second church, which has a dome and two bell towers, belonged to the local Catholic community. Close by is a small house, where the priest presumably lived. In the square in front of the church is a form of altar with a cross on top. Both churches have been renovated in recent years. Although they are both normally closed, they open sometimes for special ceremonies or events.

The village of Maalul was home to both Muslims and Christians. As is often the case, the name of the village preserved the sound of the name of an earlier Jewish community – in this case Mahalul, which was located here in Mishnaic and Talmudic times. Jewish sages of the period identified it with the Levitical city of Nahalal, which is mentioned in the Bible as being situated in the portion of land allocated to the tribe of Zebulun (Joshua 19:15) and as being one of the settlements that the tribe did not capture from the Canaanites (Judges 1:30). An archeological survey carried out at the site revealed continuous settlement from prehistoric times onwards.

In the early 20th century, the village lands were owned by the Sursock family of Beirut, and the local residents were its tenants. During Israel’s War of Independence the village was captured in Operation Dekel on July 15th, 1948. Nazareth was occupied in the course of the same operation, and the access route to beleaguered Kibbutz Kfar HaHoresh opened once more.  The conquering Golani force met with strong resistance. After the battle, the village houses were destroyed and many of the eight hundred inhabitants settled in Nazareth and Yafia.

Now we walk along the slope. Our trail passes by a small ruined building that was once the village mosque, and beside it are the headstones of the local Muslim cemetery; the Christian cemetery is situated inside the army camp. About 300 meters further down the slope are two Atlas cedars that bear a sign indicating that they may have been considered sacred because of their proximity to the cemetery. Another few minutes’ walk and our excursion comes to an end beside the large Mekorot pumping site adjacent to Route no. 75.

The KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail

The KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail is a new, long footpath that is currently in the process of taking shape. The trail, whose main route is almost 100 kilometers long, passes through the principal sites in the Jezreel Valley and the surrounding hills: the Nazareth Hills, the Alonim Hills, Mount Tabor and Givat HaMoreh. Considerable portions of the route have already been marked out by the Israel Trails Committee, which has also produced a map of the area with marked footpaths on a scale of 1: 40,000. Subsidiary paths branch off the main trail, creating a network of some 200 kilometers of route – a veritable paradise for hikers and cyclists.

The creators of the KKL-JNF Jezreel Trail had a number of objectives in view. The main goal was to emphasize “Jezreelness,” an elusive concept that is nonetheless distinctly present in the area: it is compounded of historical foundations in the distant past, redemption of the land and draining the swamps, agriculture, nature and a human mosaic. The trail passes through both well-known locations such as Tzippori, Tel Shimron and the Balfouriyya Nature Reserve, and wonderful but less familiar sites such as Ein Gideon, The Alonim Springs and the subterranean hiding places of Khirbet Ruma.

The route is indicated throughout by orange trail markings. When our path follows a trail that is already marked as part of another route, an orange dot is added to the existing markings. The trail was planned by geographer and city planner Matanya Maya, who lives in the area. The Jezreel Valley Regional Council, KKL-JNF, the Kishon River Drainage Authority, the Ministry of Tourism, the Government Tourism Company, the Israel Trails Committee and the Nature and Parks Authority were all likewise involved in the creation of the trail.