Three kids about 5 years old splash around water that reaches their knees. I too dip my feet in; it's 6 P.M. and still very hot outside. The water in the little pool is chilly and pleasant.
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A few minutes later the chill creeps from my feet to my head, here at the new wading pools at Yarkon and Tel Afek National Park. The clean water comes from a faucet, not the river, which slowly flows 100 meters away. The river is cleaner than it once was, but not clean enough. So the focus is the pool encircled by huge stones, where visitors can sit and dip their feet.
Wading pools are cool this summer. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has opened five new pools at Yarkon and Tel Afek National Park and at many other sites throughout the country.
Yes, pools really are the rage, attested to by a popular three-volume series “A Spring a Day: 365 Water Sources, Springs and Pools.” Some of the places are wells, many of them completely dry in the summer. Others are watering holes for birds in far-flung areas of the West Bank.
The parks authority's answer is the wading pools, and sure enough Yarkon and Tel Afek National Park is hopping. The area was once completely covered by swamps. Even now, despite global warming, the big winter pool near the entry gate fills up quickly in rainy winters.
The park also includes the remains of an enormous British water-pumping station from the 1930s that delivered water to Jerusalem. The station is not yet ready for visitors, but parks authority official Eyal Mitrani says this will happen soon.
Later we walk to two pools, one known as the yellow water lily pool. This area has been declared a nature reserve, even though it lies outside the park's fence.
Three kids and their parents enjoy themselves at the pool until Mitrani gently informs them that they're breaking the law. He does the same with a group of religious students trying to fish there.
Gezer’s water station, a half-hour drive from Afek, is an impressive operation, but there’s no water in it. Tzvika Tzuk, a parks authority archaeologist and an expert on ancient water stations, explains how people dug it 3,000 years ago to reach an aquifer 40 meters below ground.
We go down an improvised staircase with the help of ropes. A team of Israeli archaeologists and American evangelical Christians just finished digging there. They cleared a cave and an aquifer basin; Tzuk thinks they’ll reach water lower down next season.
Greenish water lies a kilometer east at Ein Vered, at a pool next to fig trees. We eat the first figs of the season – dry and bitter. The pool is named after Itay Steinberger, who was killed in the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Too many wasps are buzzing around; better to return in a month to check out the figs.