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Jewish holidays are something foresters across the country have come to dread. For them, it means cleaning up after hoards of hikers, some of whom have little concern for the forests whose shade they enjoy. But at the Carmel, this Sukkot proved to be a rare exception, as thousands of visitors helped dispose of trash instead of leaving it behind.

At each of the Carmel Park?s gates, the nature reserve personnel gave every hiker a green plastic bag, and asked them to fill it up with garbage from the forest. Among the hikers were 9-year-old Ze?ev, his brother, a couple of their friends and Ze?ev?s mother. Ze?ev had collected two empty plastic bottles and one plastic wrapper along the Alon Stream hiking trail, which ends at the Agam Mateh picnic ground.?I did it so other hikers can enjoy the Carmel more,? he explained. Upon further coaxing, he revealed that he had learned of the importance of taking care of nature on school trips.

And the Carmel, after months of brush fires and illegal garbage dumping, can use all the help it can get. The fires were the work of arsonists from the Carmel Municipality - the regional council formed by the villages Isfiya and Daliat al-Carmel earlier this year. The arsonists, protesting the annexation of territory to the neighboring nature reserve, started fires that consumed hundreds of dunams.

Other disgruntled parties cut down trees in retaliation for increased enforcement of environmental codes. Meanwhile, building contractors and other polluters dumped waste in illegal dumps, scattered like sores on one of Israel?s most beautiful forested mountain ranges.

?Unlike as in past years, hikers seem to be keeping the mountain clean,? says Naphtaly Gedalyahu, the Carmel Park?s director. ?Many of them pick up trash they find lying around and clean up after themselves.? Gedalyahu now hopes hikers will learn what he calls ?the final clincher? - taking the garbage bags from the small dustbins to the large containers stationed in all picnic clearings.

?We get jackals, dogs and cats that rummage through the bags and scatter garbage,? Gedalyahu says. ?But most hiking trails are pretty clean. You can still expect to see a plastic bottle or a plastic bag here and there. The problem is now restricted to the clearings and picnic areas,? Gedalyahu says.

Dudu, a hiker from the Tel Aviv area, has an explanation for that. ?People who go hiking are usually more civilized, and more concerned about preserving the trails,? he says. But other hikers, who stay near the picnic grounds, also seem to be catching on. Seasoned hikers and foresters say the picnickers are definitely leaving less garbage behind.

Among the picnickers are Vitaly Zeslevski and his family, who came from Haifa to have a picnic in the nature reserve. His family and friends set up a large picnic table at the Makhtzevot Kedumin picnic site. On it, they placed a samovar to boil tea, a BBQ and a platter of meat. They hung big plastic bags from the trees.

?This is our usual spot. You can find us here at least once a month. So we keep it clean. No plastic bags, no plastic wrap, no nothing!? says Andrei Tijay of Herzliya.

Another group of hikers, headed by Aharon Morad and his father-in-law, Moshe Khoury, were surprised at the relative cleanliness of the slopes of the Carmel Park, dubbed ?Little Switzerland.? Khoury says many Israelis? approach to the outdoors has changed in recent years.

?Just a couple of years ago, this whole place would be one big heap of garbage,? Khoury reminded his son-in-law. ?People finally started to realize that we don?t have a lot of nature in this tiny land, and that they have go to change their ways if it?s going to survive.?