Hula Valley, Israel
Israel is a small country with diverse geological areas. In 1948 the Hula Valley consisted of a lake and swamps. Water and melted snow ran off the mountains into the valley carrying eroded soil with the water. Water fed in from the Jordan River and numerous springs.
The climate is a Mediterranean climate. It has hot dry summers and cool rainy winters. Rainfall varies depending on the section of the valley from very little yearly rainfall to about 59 inches per year. In the winter there are occasional strong north-easterly winds storms.
Lake Hula is the oldest known lake recorded in history. It is mentioned in 14th century B.C. letters of Pharoah Amenhotep IV. It was called Samchuna then.
Remains found near the Bnot Yaakov (Daughters of Jacob) bridge show that the Hula Valley has been home to people at least from the Paleolithic period. The first permanent settlement was about 9000 to 10000 years ago.
Hula Valley was a main stopping point on the trade route that connected Damascus with Egypt and the Mediterranean coast. The Israelites eventually controlled the valley until Assyrian armies drove them away. Other settlers were from Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine and early Arab periods. So people have been pretty much continuously living there forever.
Traditional crops were rice, cotton, sugar cane, sorghum, and maize. Water buffalo were brought in to supply milk and to help with the heavy work. Wild animals, birds, and insects abounded. Wild boars, panthers, otters, leopards, gazelles, bears, hyenas, wolves, jackals, and foxes were some of the animals made for good hunting.
Bedouins lived there in the 19th century. They made handicrafts from the dry reeds around the marsh. But people were dying from malaria.
A traveler from Scotland drew the first modern maps of Hula Valley. He also made notes that included his opinion that the entire area of swamps and lake could be drained in one year with a proper drainage ditch. This was in the 1860's.
In the late 1800's the Ghawarna tried to drain the swamps by digging drainage canals and enlarging the outlet of the lake. Then the Turkish administration of the area planned to drain the swamps so. they would have more land for agriculture. There were several failures and the right to drain the area was sold to Syrian merchants who eventually sold those rights to the British Palestine Development Company in 1934. In 1936 World War II caused political and economic problems.
Then the State of Israel was established. The Hula draining project was undertaken. It was felt that they would be adding land suitable for farming as well as getting rid of the mosquitoes that caused malaria. They could use the peat as fertilizer and in manufacturing.
The Jewish National Fund was the agency responsible for land development. They began the draining project in 1951. It was finished in 1958. Tourists were restricted because it was such a large undertaking and it seemed everyone wanted to watch.
At the same time scientists and naturalists were concerned that the project was upsetting the ecological balance. So a small area of papyrus swampland was left untouched. It became Israel's first nature preserve called Hula Valley Park.
Cities and farms prospered in Hula Valley but much of the plant and animal life indigenous to the area was gone.The peat soil was too dry. Microbes decomposed the vegetation. It caused underground fires. Dangerous caverns were formed in the peat. Peat soil turned into dry black dust that was blown in windstorms to damage crops. Field mice multiplied and did serious damage to crops. Farmers began to leave because they were not getting good crop yield. Maybe something needed to be done.
Mother Nature stepped in. In the early 1990's heavy rains flooded a portion of the Hula Valley. The Israel government decided a compromise was in order. They left that part of the valley flooded and continued to develop the rest.
They now have a beautiful nature preserve. Animal life and plant life are flourishing. It has become a haven for tourists, especially birders.
The return of common cranes is one of the benefits. Common cranes coming from Asia and Europe make a layover in Hula Valley on their way to Africa. More than 300 species of birds to be seen at various times. White pelicans, ducks, waders, passerines, pallid harriers, long-legged buzzards, greater spotted eagles, and eastern imperial eagles are just a few that can be spotted. Black-winged kites are a big attraction.
Also returning are jungle cats, golden jackals, and wolves. Water buffalo graze to preserve the meadows. The Israel painted frog was considered extinct since 1996. It has reappeared in Hula Valley.
Plants are growing again. Rare aquatic plants like yellow flag, the white water-lily, and paper reed are some to look for.
There have been problems. For instance the common cranes took to eating crops, especially peanuts. To solve the problem park officials used tractors and wagons to set out corn and other feed to keep the birds in the park. Humans and Mother Nature working together has been successful for the most part.
Hula Valley Park has hiking trails, a cable car, biking trails and bikes for rent, golf carts, and tours with wagons pulled by the same tractors used to feed the birds. There are observation sites set up everywhere even on the floating bridge that crosses the swamp. You will find telescopes to observe. There are museums, audio tours to help you know what to look for on your own.
It must be a great place to visit. Since they have almost gotten rid of malaria, I have put it on my "bucket list". Will it be on yours?