As part of its policy of improving opportunities for recreation and leisure in nature, KKL-JNF has initiated and created new attractions in the heart of the forest. Its latest project, which took about ten years to complete, is the Carmel Sea Active Recreation Park, which was dedicated in Ofer Forest.
The topography of this site is perfect for slides and flying foxes. The slide passes through forest trees, there is a recreation area adjacent to the new park, and from the observation tower there are panoramas of the coastal plain and scenic views of the Carmel – green mountains, ravines, cliffs and a profusion of birds and wildlife.
The Carmel Sea Park begins at a gravel road that blends in with the natural landscape and reaches a convenient and accessible parking lot, where a large, paved plaza leads to wide wooden stairs and then to a giant deck, to the right of which is a lookout balcony fenced in green. In every direction one can see the blue water of the sea, the green hues of the forest, and hear the twitter of birds and the silence of nature. Beneath the protective fence is the park, a huge expanse with a dry slide route painted in green and orange, a flying fox that extends 100 meters, a high tower with attractions on each of its levels: rappelling, a climbing wall, a course with four rope bridges that hang between earth and sky ten meters high for the adrenalin challenged.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo archive
On the other side there is a lookout tower and below it a large amphitheatre with 500 seats and a large stage designed with a dark brown wooden deck that blends in well with the colors of its natural surroundings. From the amphitheatre there are a few steps that lead to a large, illuminated indoor space enclosed by glass windows, which take in the green and scenic forest. The hall is divided into two parts, one of them used for presentations and conferences, and the other a small café that was designed with furnishings that combine the modern and the ancient in a vintage style.
Ofer Forest, which is also called the Carmel Coast Forest, covers an area of 1,000 hectares on the western slopes of the Carmel. KKL JNF began planting trees at this site during the early years of the State of Israel, with local residents taking part in the process. The forest is a mixture of planted trees and Mediterranean woodland typical of the Carmel range. A diverse forest has been created over the years with many kinds of trees including oak, terebinth, spiny hawthorn, buckthorn, carob, mastic, sycamore, olive and prickly pear. Especially noticeable are the Jerusalem pines, which have reseeded themselves and differ from other pines with their wide, branching trunks and broad treetops.
The region is covered with flowers most months of the year, especially the winter months, when there are carpets of cyclamens and anemone, also rockrose, spiny broom, narcissus and assorted orchids. The Ofer Lookout is situated on the peak of the mountain range, and in the middle of it is the KKL JNF observation point which overlooks the entire region. From the tower one can see the Carmel landscapes, the coastal communities, agricultural expanses, banana plantations, fish ponds, the blue water of the Mediterranean Sea on the horizon and the shoreline.
The forest observation tower was constructed by KKL-JNF in the 1960s with the assistance of its friends from Australia. It serves as a means for spotting locating fires in the vast expanses of forest and natural woodlands. Every day of the week in the summer season, KKL JNF operates a network of observations, fire trucks and teams that are on-call in order to prevent conflagrations and extinguish fires. A staircase leads to the observation deck, which commands a panoramic view from the Carmel ridge and Daliyat el Carmel to Zichron Yaakov, the coastal plain, Atlit, Dor Beach, Habonim Beach, and the pine forests beneath the tower. There are many picnic areas in the forest, benches facing the landscapes, playground equipment, hiking trails and drinking fountains.
Photo: KKL-JNF archive
In one of the oldest sections of the forest, a series of footpaths in nature called the Ron Trails was created. These trails, as well as a major recreation area, commemorate Colonel (res.) Aviel Ron and his two children, Ofer and Anat, who were killed by a suicide bomber at the Matza restaurant in Haifa on March 31, 2002. Aviel Ron was one of the developers of the Merkava 3 tank and was awarded the Israel Defense Prize in 1992. Prior to his death, he was the General Manager of the Survey of Israel (SOI). The recreation area is located at the Kabir ruins northwest of Kerem Maharal and was constructed on the initiative of his wife Carmit.
There are four marked bicycle routes in the forest with varied levels of difficulty, which overlap each other. One can choose a particular route or a combination of routes, and cycle on the shady forest paths. One of the routes suited for family outings, an easy route, is Route No.2, which is marked in green on the touring map and is 8km long. The path has a flat dirt road most of the way, and the length of it can be cycled in 2 to 3 hours. The starting point is at the Ataturk recreation area near the Merav Center, and the route proceeds from there to the heart of Ofer Forest. Along the route there are varied scenic views and narrow forest paths that pass through groves of cypress trees, pines and shrubs. Farther along one arrives at an archeological structure, the tomb of Sheikh Danun, one of the Egyptian soldiers who fought in the region against the Crusaders, was killed and then buried at the foot of the hill. Along the route one can see wildlife such as deer, fox, songbirds, mongoose and jackals. Farther down the route there is an observation point facing the sea, and if you get there around sunset, you should stop and watch the sky turn red.