The Best Kept Secret of Emek Hefer: Nahal Alexander & Turtles
By Robin B. Zeiger, Ph.D.
I am now on a mission - to discover the hidden secrets of Emek Hefer and share them with you. Then, when ya'all come and visit, I can direct you to our secret spots.
Jonathan and I began our journey of discovery over Chol Ha'Moed Sukkot. We snuck away alone, without "help" from our children for our own private hike along nearby Nahal Alexander. (The River Alexander). We were not disappointed by our trek through the nature preserve, a popular spot for hiking, biking, and picnicking.
We had chosen a quiet day. Thus, the good news was that we were alone much of the time. We treasure peace and can easily find this in Emek Hefer.
After battling traffic, honking, craziness in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, we are always happy to return to K'far Ha'roeh, where we can hear the chickens and the cows.
Surrounding the river are grassy banks and lush greenery. On a previous visit, I savored some grapes. As we hiked this time, I admired the tall reeds and imaged the story of baby Moses hidden alongside a similar riverbed along the Nile. On our trek, we set out to reach the Turtle Bridge. This bridge boasts some interesting history. It was built in 1930 by K'far Vitkin settlers (another small village in Emek Hefer). Importantly, it is one of the only places in Israel where the soft-shelled turtle can be observed. This species, originally from the lakes of East Africa, grows to a length of about three feet and a weight of 110 pounds. In late spring, the female turtle lays its eggs in dents it digs in the river banks. After two months the small turtles hatch and run to the water.
In 1991, Nahal Alexander became famous for a preservation effort. The river was flooded by enormous rainfall, and most of its soft-shelled turtle population drifted into the Mediterranean Sea. In addition, pollution endangered the turtles and the eggs that were left would not hatch. The Israel Nature & National Parks Authority launched a project to collect the turtle eggs, incubate them in a superficial environment and eventually return the turtles to the water.
The Nahal Alexander has another claim to fame. It was part of a cleanup project that won first prize in 2003 in the Riverprize environmental rehabilitation competition in Australia. Nahal Shechem, a tributary of Nahal Alexander, was polluted by processed olive and stonework industries in the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Tulkarm. It was also being polluted by factories in Emek Hefer. The prize recognized the joint efforts of the Palestinians and the Israelis to clean up the river. When we reached the Turtle Bridge, we were awed. The turtles were magnificent. Young children and their families watched these creatures with fascination. (Most took the easy way and drove). The area is beautifully designed with benches and a watch tower. And there was even an enterprising ice-cream vendor to tempt us. No, we didn't indulge. It would ruin the benefits of our good exercise!
Now I have the seeds of an idea for our next hike. Our friends tell us it is possible to continue on the same path all the way to Netanya and the sea.
It has finally cooled down a bit, so it is really sounding good. Looking forward to sending pictures home to Richmond!