En­er­giz­ing Ein Afek

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - TOUR ISRAEL - • MEITAL SHARABI Pho­tos: MEITAL SHARABI and MENO GREENSPAN

When you plan a hike in the win­ter, it’s dif­fi­cult to know ahead of time if the weather is go­ing to be mild enough. So it’s best to choose a lo­ca­tion with easy ac­cess and great views that will in­ter­est every­one who joins. Many times na­ture re­serves get muddy from win­ter rains, but one place I love vis­it­ing in the win­ter that is al­ways con­ve­nient, re­gard­less of how much rain we re­cently had, is the Ein Afek Na­ture Re­serve. This pop­u­lar site of­fers pas­toral views, flow­ing wa­ter and in­ter­est­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­mains. And it even has wheel­chair-ac­ces­si­ble trails.

Lo­cated on the out­skirts of Kiryat Bia­lik, Ein Afek is a won­der­ful place for an en­joy­able Satur­day morn­ing fam­ily out­ing. Since it’s not far away, many peo­ple like to end the day with a visit to Old Acre. Tak­ing a nice hike and then spend­ing time in one of Is­rael’s most fas­ci­nat­ing an­cient port cities cer­tainly makes for an in­vig­o­rat­ing day.

Ein Afek, which was of­fi­cially de­clared a na­ture re­serve in 1979, in­cludes a clus­ter of springs, a tel (arche­o­log­i­cal mound) and an an­cient flour mill. There are also many species of an­i­mals that make their home in the re­serve. And this time of year you will find the grounds burst­ing with color­ful flow­ers.

The Ein Afek Na­ture Re­serve is truly a gem of na­ture. In the 1920s and 1930s, kib­butz mem­bers worked hard to drain the swamps, which were rife with malaria. They chan­neled the wa­ter from the springs to flow into the Na’aman River in­stead of the swamps.

The trail to Ein Afek starts in the park­ing area. From this spot you can reach every point of in­ter­est in the na­ture re­serve: the pools where hu­mans and birds alike love to gather, the flour mill, and the nu­mer­ous wooden bridges that criss­cross over the re­serve.

The re­serve is rel­a­tively small, so you’ll soon come to the springs af­ter which the re­serve is named. In re­cent years, the springs dried out be­cause wa­ter was taken from wells that were filled from the springs. Now, some of that wa­ter has been chan­neled back to the springs, and the Na’aman has once again be­come a peren­nial river.

The next stop along the trail is the flour mill. This im­pres­sive relic dates back to the Ro­mans. The struc­ture there now was heav­ily for­ti­fied by the Cru­saders who con­quered the area in the early 12th cen­tury. In­side the two-story build­ing you can watch a short film that de­picts the re­gion dur­ing dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods in his­tory, with an em­pha­sis on lo­cal fauna and flora.

AF­TER WATCH­ING the film, you can climb up to the roof of the mill and look out over the val­ley. On clear days you can see all the way to Acre. You can also see the lake, which was the source of wa­ter that op­er­ated the flour mill, as well as a num­ber of stone for­ti­fi­ca­tions built by Cru­saders, which served as watch­tow­ers to help pro­tect the mill from in­trud­ers.

Af­ter tak­ing in your sur­round­ings, you can climb down from the roof and con­tinue along the cir­cu­lar trail. You can stop for a rest or a quick pic­nic at one of the many benches along the path. Plant en­thu­si­asts will cer­tainly be im­pressed by the large va­ri­ety of wa­ter plants that adorn the pools. Bird watch­ers will be happy to know the re­serve is a pop­u­lar stopover for a tremen­dous num­ber of birds dur­ing the mi­gra­tion sea­son.

Is­raeli au­thor­i­ties are cur­rently in the midst of bird-band­ing, in which a small, in­di­vid­u­ally num­bered metal or plas­tic tag is at­tached to the leg or wing of a wild bird to en­able in­di­vid­ual iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. De­cem­ber is not one of the heav­ier months for bird mi­gra­tion over Is­rael, but there are still plenty of birds to see this time of year, such as com­mon cranes and Asian desert war­blers. White-headed ducks can be seen float­ing on the wa­ter. There are also cat­fish lin­ger­ing in the pools to be looked at. And if you’re es­pe­cially lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a tur­tle search­ing for quiet cor­ner in the sun.

If you still haven’t had enough of an­i­mals, you’ll be happy to know that in the north­ern­most sec­tion of the re­serve you can find buf­falo. They were brought here from the Hula Val­ley and in­tro­duced into the na­ture re­serve in­side a pen with elec­tric sen­sors to pre­vent them from wan­der­ing into the swamp. Buf­falo love wa­ter, so a sep­a­rate wa­ter­ing hole was dug for them.

When you’ve had your fill of watch­ing the buf­falo idly graz­ing and drink­ing, you can make your way back to the trail, which will lead you to a nar­row bridge that crosses over the mas­sive reser­voir. Just be aware that the bridge is a pop­u­lar selfie spot, so it some­times gets a lit­tle bot­tle­necked. Once you reach the other side, con­tinue along the trail, which will take you to Tel Afek.

Tel Afek is lo­cated in the south­ern part of Ein Afek. Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ex­ca­va­tions here are spread out over 17 acres and con­tain re­mains found from three dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods: Ro­man, Canaan­ite and Hel­lenis­tic. Re­mains can be seen of a wall that sur­rounded the an­cient city of Afek, which served as a cru­cial stop on the an­cient high­way from Egypt to Me­sopotamia. In ad­di­tion, ar­ti­facts show the lo­cal com­mu­nity pro­duced pur­ple color by ex­tract­ing it from snails. Ar­chae­ol­o­gists spec­u­late that peo­ple lived here some 5,000 years ago.

Di­rec­tions: Take Road 4 un­til you reach the Ein Afek Junc­tion. Turn onto Road 7911 to­ward Sh­faram, af­ter which you will soon see a sign for the Ein Afek Na­ture Re­serve.

FLOUR MILL from the Cru­sader pe­riod.

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