In November 1947, just a few weeks before the outbreak of Israel’s War of Independence, a civil engineer named Hillel Berger marked a three-kilometer trail in the Judean Desert, between Ein Feshkha and Ras El Feshkha, the country’s first-ever marked trail. Berger had discovered a pathway to some of Israel’s picturesque views and unique eco-systems, and he simply could not wait to share it with others.
As the land bridge between three continents, and serving as the intersection of four major climatic zones, Israel boasts rich biodiversity, supporting a varied array of life, including 2,800 species of flora, over 500 species of birds and 100 species of mammals. As the only piece of dry land connecting Asia and Europe to Africa, Israel is also a bottleneck on bird migration flyways, hosting over 500 million winged vacationers every year.
With so much to offer hikers from around the world, it was only a matter of time before others would take Berger’s lead and start blazing trails of their own. But with so many trailblazers, how does Israel ensure that all of the trails adhere to the same system?
The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is responsible for blazing and maintaining the more than 10,000 kilometers of hiking trails all over Israel, including the 1,100-kilometer expanse known as the Israel National Trail, one of National Geographic’s “20 Epic Trails.” Decades ago, SPNI adopted the Eastern European trail-marking system, which entails painting a bold-colored stripe approximately 5 centimeters (approx. 2”) wide sandwiched between two white stripes on rocks or posts along the trail. While this method is somewhat universal, Israeli markings do vary slightly to highlight unique aspects of the terrain.
Despite the various myths concerning the meaning behind the colors marking each trail, the truth is that the colors have no specific meaning. Rather, colors are chosen because they are striking and easily visible from a distance. Marking the trail using a certain color does not indicate the level of difficulty, proximity to water or historic origin.
However, one aspect that does receive special attention is the crossroads between trails. In order to avoid confusion, different trails meeting at a specific point are clearly marked by different colors.
Though the color selection process is simplistic, one requires more than a brush and a can of paint to mark a trail. Because trail marking revolves around both the comfort and safety of hikers as well as the protection and preservation of nature, the process of trail marking entails the collaboration of a number of professionals specializing in nature conservation and public safety, ensuring the best possible route for humans and the area’s flora and fauna.
Once the trail is marked and published it becomes the responsibility of the statutory authority in charge of that specific geographical area. For example, a trail that runs through the territory of the Misgav Regional Council is that council’s responsibility. A trail that runs through a nature reserve becomes the responsibility of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
The markings of each trail are renewed every two to three years. This period can be shortened if hikers report an urgent need for updates. SPNI’s is a very accessible system and hikers frequently reach out to us with updates on the state of the markings, often leading to the dispatch of a trail-marking team. Floods or infrastructure projects that we are aware of in advance will also result in trail-marking maintenance.
So, if you love nature and are knowledgeable about preservation, feel free to send your resume to the Israel Trails Marking Committee run by SPNI, in cooperation with Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. We are always looking for good men and women to expand and enhance our trail system. While hundreds of trails have already been marked, there are still so many beautiful corners of Israel left to discover.
By Moti Ben Chitrit
Moti Ben Chitrit is the head of the Israel Trails Marking Committee run by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the oldest, leading and largest environmental non-profit organization in Israel.