Their First Home
An Opportunity to Meet the Folks Behind the Scenes at the Nature Park.
They know every stone in the nature park, they are the first to spot the flowers before spring officially sets in, and if you’re lost deep in the park they will get you back on track with a smile and guide you on your way. We went out for the day with the rangers of Ramat Hanadiv’s Nature Park, and returned with dust in our hair, fascinating stories, and slight jealousy, but mainly a deeper understanding
It’s ten in the morning on an intensely hot, late-summer day; the sun is approaching its zenith as we wait for Hassan and his air-conditioned jeep to save us from the heat and take us around the park. “No air-conditioner,” says Hassan before I even sit down and for a moment I think he’s joking. “With the air-conditioner on and the windows closed I can’t smell a fire in time,” he continues, seriously. This is indeed the danger season for forest fires in our country, and no magazine article will prevent him from doing his job faithfully. There will be no ‘tour’ today, I think to myself, and take comfort in the cool thought of authentic reporting.
For Hassan, manager of the rangers at the park, it’s almost noon. He drank his six-thirty cup of coffee here at Ramat Hanadiv, went out along the spring trail and made sure the area was clear of litter from yesterday’s visitors, checked that all the fences were in place, and met up with some visitors and advised them on recommended activities for the season.
Hassan drives along the park’s trails almost without thinking; he knows every rock and tree. “It’s like a second home for you,” I say, and he corrects me, “It’s no second home, this is my first home”. We leave the main trail that looks out over the southern neighborhood of Zikhron Ya’akov and connect to the vulture trail, the longest and most challenging of the park’s routes. Along the trail there are wonderful lookouts, a prehistoric cave and an acclimation cave for birds of prey. Anyone who decides to climb up the challenging cliff trail will gain a view of the spectacular rural landscapes as a reward. Due to the heat we relinquish this challenge and continue southward, while to the west a spectacular view of the sea opens up.
The Nature Park at Ramat Hanadiv spreads out over approximately 450 hectares (~1100 acres) forming the southern tip of the Carmel Range. It borders on Zikhron Ya’akov to the north and Binyamina to the south, and sits between Hanadiv Valley in the east and the Mt Carmel cliffs in the west. We travel through a typical Mediterranean landscape of natural woodlands interspersed with ancient agricultural fields displaying archeological remains from different periods. These are joined by groves of pine, cypress and other tree species that were planted by JNF-KKL during the 1970s throughout the entire park.
“There’s no place in Israel like this park,” says Hassan, who notices our enthusiasm. “This place has nearly everything – amazing views, nature, animals, heritage sites and a spring. And it’s so close to the center of the country. That’s why we see thousands of visitors here on weekends and holidays.” But it’s not just the natural values of the location, Hassan explains, and he knows what he’s talking about. He lives in Daliyat-al-Carmel, a beautiful place in itself, “no place in this country is cared for and maintained like we do it here.” And he receives constant feedback from visitors. “Once, a student doing research here told me that people refer to Ramat Hanadiv as a university for land management and maintenance.”
The park is supervised and maintained year-round by three dedicated rangers: Hassan Salah, Mahfouz Elkhatib and Wahabi Elkhatib. Hassan has been here almost 12 years and still considers himself a ‘youngster’ in contrast to Mahfouz who’s already been here for 25 years. We meet Mahfouz on the way. He is currently supervising a group of workers who are preparing a field for sowing wheat, “a field that will resemble the ancient agriculture that was once here,” Mahfouz explains. They update each other about the perimeter gate and the removal of pruned vegetation.
“So how is your work different from that of a ranger in a nature reserve?”
“A ranger at Ramat Hanadiv does everything – maintenance, cleaning, pruning, clearing trails, releasing drainage water in the winter – everything; we are the park’s maintenance crew.” And indeed, the four park rangers divide up their work days between maintenance days and supervision days. “This way we have a feeling of belonging to the place; we don’t just walk around, but rather we are involved in everything that happens here. We are crazy about this place,” says Mahfouz. They are the first ones to photograph the flower buds and swap photos with each other; they are the first ones to discover unique animals and pass on the information to the researchers. Many researchers work at Ramat Hanadiv; it is the most studied area in the country relative to its size. Since they live each day in the field, the rangers are witness to many interesting surprises. “We identify every footprint just like trackers. We can tell when jackals or foxes have passed by. For example, once everyone thought there were no wild hares here, but Mahfouz found them.”
There’s something about these people, I think to myself, some combination of a love of nature and the outdoors, tremendous knowledge and considerable modesty. After all, it’s very hard work. On the one hand, prolonged periods of solitude in the field and much physical labor, rain hail or shine. On the other hand, frequent interaction with visitors during vacation periods. And as everyone knows, not all visitors abide by the rules for nature protection.
“And how does a ranger, who works all the time in nature and open spaces, deal with the large numbers of visitors that come during vacation periods?”
“We are constantly learning,” says Mahfouz, “how to talk to the people and how to read them. We communicate well with them, help when necessary, answer questions and provide guidance about the area.”
“The way people walk through nature tells a lot about who they are,” says Hassan, “and we know the regular visitors like family. When I see visitors from a distance I already know who I have to deal with, if they are seasoned hikers, if they will get lost, if they are likely to leave behind litter and mess…”
With Wahabi, who worked the evening shift that same day, we managed to chat only briefly. “An evening ranger,” he told us, “makes sure, among other things, that all visitors leave about half an hour before darkness; this allows the animals to emerge without fear to drink from the spring and obtain food. During the evening the park is theirs alone.”
Towards the end of our trip, Moran, the youngest ranger, hosts us at the spring with coffee and grapes. It’s more difficult to get him to talk, “I’ve only been here a year, I still have a lot to learn,” he says. “How long do you think you’ll be here?” I ask, and notice Hassan’s smiling glance.
Suddenly a sentence I heard an hour ago from Mahfouz jumps back at me. We had asked Hassan: what would you do if you weren’t a ranger here? And before Hassan had time to answer, Mahfouz decided for him: “Nothing, you’d go crazy in any other place. When I see you run on foot from the spring, up the cycle path, and relax when you see that the trees are OK, I know that you wouldn’t last an hour in an office…”