Protecting Creeks From Careless Drivers

In response to the damage caused to flora and fauna by ATVs, the nature authority has recently begun blocking vehicle access to many waterways.

Hikers arriving at the Zippori Creek near Kiryat Tivon these days are likely to think they have stumbled into a military zone. A long stretch of the river bank has been blocked by a row of large boulders; a formerly open area has been fenced off; and a sign warns motorists to beware of spikes in the road.

In reality, however, all this is the work of the Kishon River Authority, which concluded that if damage caused by careless drivers of all-terrain vehicles went unchecked, soon nothing would be left of the local wildlife.

The incessant traffic of jeeps and other ATVs has caused serious damage to open areas and the landscape in recent years. Recently, the various authorities responsible for these areas came to the conclusion that the only option was to physically block entrance to vehicles, even if, as is the case with Zippori Creek, doing so exacts an aesthetic price.

The newly completed Maayanot Park, near Kibbutzim Creek in the Beit She'an area, has boulders blocking the entrance of vehicles. Near the Nofarim Pool, one of the sources of the Yarkon River, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority erected a barrier to prevent cars from entering, as the site contains rare water plants that were seriously damaged by the incessant car traffic. The authority has also barred traffic near the Sorek Creek estuary and plans to do the same at the Nitzanim nature reserve south of Ashdod.

Stones along the Zippori Creek
Abdullah Shama

Zippori Creek is not a nature reserve, but the Kishon River Authority has the power to take such steps anywhere within its area of jurisdiction, which includes the creek. "Off-road vehicles came here and completely destroyed the river bed, by climbing the banks over and over again," said Haim Hemi, the authority's director.

Hemi lives in Alon Hagalil, which abuts Zippori Creek. He was disturbed by video clips on YouTube in which ATV drivers filmed themselves wearing down the river bed, one of the last in the area that still has a natural flow of water and an intact landscape.

"First we decided to place barriers on one section, and there was an immediate improvement in the situation," Hemi said. "Afterward we were forced to place boulders in another section.

"We tried to arrange the boulders so they would blend into the landscape, but I know they don't look particularly good," he admitted. "It is a temporary arrangement. We planted trees along the creek, and when they grow, they will form a partition that prevents cars from entering, and we won't need the boulders."

At the same time, authority employees approached residents of nearby Bedouin villages, which are the source of some of the ATV drivers. Among other things, the authority instituted a school project in which students adopt the creek, study it and clean up the area.

"We hope they will go home and explain to their parents how important it is to preserve the creek," said Mohammed Khilef, principal of the elementary school in Ras Ali, which is located above Zippori Creek.

A recently passed amendment to the law that bans vehicles from driving on Israel's beaches extended the ban to other nature sites near water as well. The amendment, sponsored by MK Dov Khenin (Hadash ), allows the environmental protection minister to declare open areas near water and creeks off-limits to vehicles. The law is to be enforced not only by inspectors of the nature and parks authority, but also by the local councils, which recently received the authority to enforce environmental protection laws.