Three Million Israelis Flock to Parks, Reserves and Forests During Passover

Nearly three million Israelis took time out over Passover to visit nature reserves, national parks and forests, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jewish National Fund said yesterday, following the last day of the holiday.

The nature and parks authority said that approximately 500,000 people visited its pay sites, and the JNF said about 1.5 million people went to the forests and other sites it manages. The other one million Israelis enjoying the outdoors this week spent their time in open-space reserves such as Mount Carmel.

According to the nature and parks authority, its most popular site was Banias Nature Reserve, which saw 33,000 visitors over the holiday week. The next most popular site this week was Masada, with more than 30,000 visitors, followed by Ein Gedi and Caesarea, with 28,000 visitors each. The authority's holiday events ended with the Nabatean Festival at Mamshit National Park and with the sand-sculpting festival at Beit Yannai Beach National Park.

The most popular open areas under the aegis of the nature and parks authority were Mount Carmel, the Judean Desert, Makhtesh Ramon and streams in the Galilee.

The JNF said its most popular sites in the north were Lake Agmon, the Jordan River and Beit Keshet parks and Goren Forest. In the center, the main JNF attractions were Ben-Shemen Forest, Canada Park and British Park and in the south the most popular destinations were Hamalchim, Lahav and Yatir forests and Golda Park near Kibbutz Revivim.

The JNF said visitors were much more careful this year about taking the litter they made out of the forest, as requested. Still, a total of 400 tons of trash were collected from nature sites over the holiday.

Cyclists were especially numerous this year along Israel's roads. The nature and parks authority is expected to meet in the coming weeks with representatives of cyclist groups to reach understandings allowing cyclists to use pedestrian trails in nature reserves and thus expand their activities.

About 500,000 Israelis spent their Passover vacation in the Upper Galilee. According to Anat Nissim, CEO of the Galilee Tourism Authority, accommodations were more than 90 percent filled in the region, an impressive increase over last year at this time.

The Negev and Galilee Development Authority said more than 400,000 people visited sites in the south over Passover week, including thousands of cyclists in the Besor region.

According to the Jerusalem municipality, the capital welcomed no less than a million Israelis and Christian pilgrims during the holiday, with the most popular sites being the Western Wall and the Old City churches. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which runs the Western Wall Tunnel, said more than 500,000 people visited the tunnel during the holiday.

Now that Passover is over, some 45,000 people are expected to leave the country today on 254 flights. The busiest day of the holiday at Ben-Gurion International Airport was last Thursday, with nearly 50,000 travelers on almost 300 flights.

All told, the number of travelers during the Passover season is expected to exceed 555,000, on some 3,500 flights - a 19 percent increase over last Passover.

On Sunday, the eve of the second holiday, 8,755 people went to or from Sinai at the Taba border crossing south of Eilat. Most of those leaving were Israelis, mainly from the Arab community, while most of those entering were foreign tourists.

A total of 35,721 people passed through the Taba border crossing during the holiday.