Some 20 national parks and nature reserves to open Wednesday by advance booking
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Some 20 national parks and nature reserves to open Wednesday by advance booking

Internet site for registration to open Tuesday, with visitor quotas and visit duration times to be set for each site

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

The Snir stream. (Shmuel Bar-Am)
The Snir stream. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

Some 20 national parks and nature reserves all over the country will open on Wednesday as part of the coronavirus reopening announced Monday.

Obligatory advance registration, via a website (in Hebrew) set to open Tuesday, will ensure that the various sites adhere to Health Ministry requirements. Visitor quotas will be set for each site and the duration of visits will be limited.

Last month, the Association of Public Health Officials and Society for Protection of Nature issued a joint plea to allow Israelis back into nature, saying green spaces reduce depression, lower blood pressure and speed recovery from sickness.

For wildlife, though, the coronavirus lockdown has been a boon.

Jackals in Hayarkon Park in Tel Aviv on April 13, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The nature parks set to open include Ma’ayan Harod (Harod Stream), Caesarea, Yarkon Tel Afek, Yarkon Park, Apollonia, Beit Guvrin, Herodium, Castel, the Ein Gedi archaeological park, Masada and Ein Habesor.

The list of nature reserves includes Banias, Snir Stream, Ayun Stream, Yehudiya, Ein Afek, Hula, Taninim Stream, Enot Tsukim, Ein Gedi and the Zin Cliffs Nature Reserve.

Quotas for the sites have been determined according to their size and the ability of visitors to maintain distances from one another, the average duration of stay during normal periods, the way visitors flow and the points of interest where people are likely to linger.

Taninim Stream. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority — which faces losses of tens of millions of shekels this year due to restrictions on people leaving their homes or visiting parks — called on the public to adhere to instructions: to have their temperatures taken at park entrances, to don masks when asked to do so, to regularly wash hands at hand sanitizer stations set up along trails, to keep their distance from others and avoid large gatherings, and to stand where signs tell them to. Those who book visits but are then unable to turn up are asked to cancel in advance in order to allow others to take their places.

Washrooms will be regularly cleaned and barriers will be erected between staff and visitors at ticket and information booths. Payment will be by credit card only.

The names of campsites to open Thursday will be published on the INPA website.

At this stage, there are no plans to open beaches or other bathing sites with lifeguards, but hiking (as opposed to bathing) will be allowed along shallow, flowing streams.

Services such as stores will open in line with Purple Badge instructions issued more than two weeks ago for workplaces wishing to reopen.

Aerial view of Masada (Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA)

INPA director Shaul Goldstein called on visitors not only to observe the health-related rules, but to keep the sites clean for the welfare of other humans and of the animals that have been enjoying relative freedom during the coronavirus lockdown. This means throwing trash into the bins provided, eschewing single-use plastic, keeping to marked trails and driving slowly and cautiously near sites as animals have gotten used to walking on traffic-less roads.

The INPA runs some 400 nature reserves and 100 more-developed national parks, many of which include camping facilities, and which are especially popular during the spring, when families, hikers and others take advantage of the warming weather and still lush landscapes fed by winter rains.

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