Stepping into the area of the Nuheyla trail in northern Israel is like taking a walk down the lane of history: biblical sites, places where Jews first arrived in 1940s after escaping WWII, and historic spots where fierce battles were conducted between the IDF forces and Syrian troops back in the 1960s.
Nowadays, after more than two years of restoration with the help of IDF troops from the 769 Brigade - which are responsible for the defense of Galilee Panhandle - the historic six-kilometer (3.7 miles) trail was inaugurated and became Israel's latest hiking track.
The special initiative was part of the "Nature Defense Forces - commanders take responsibility for their environment" program. As part of the project, IDF troops join in an effort to protect the environment, with the army allocating soldiers to clean up and rehabilitate areas around their bases.
The Nuheyla valley was once a Syrian outpost and a warzone where 50 years ago Israeli forces battled Syrian tanks as part of the battle over the control of water resources.
For years the terrain had remained abandoned, neglected, and mostly consisted of rocky land. "But now, after the land has undergone a significant improvement, with an emphasis on protecting nature, it is ready for to accept the young generation," the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said.
The open valley connects the Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights, and the Galilee, a type of savannah that is crossed by shallow streams. It is also a basaltic valley with a multitude of springs connecting to Tel Dan Nature Reserve and the slopes of Hermon. Apart from the basalt stones, you will also find impressive dolmen rocks that were discovered by the British in 1882.
In addition, the valley combines Hermon vegetation with the flora of streams, creating a unique habitat for a wide variety of animal species. You will also find a high density of trees and shrubs of the rare Paliurus spina-christi, and other leafy and unique flora variety.
Until the beginning of the 1970s, Nuheyla springs had flowed into the Dan River. But in 1968, an explosion occurred in the Trans-Arabian oil Pipeline, which passed north of the Tel Dan Nature Reserve. As a result, Israel initiated a program for protection of water resources from the Jordan River.
As part of the protection efforts, the Nuheyla canal was dug in order to redirect the water flow to a reservoir that was excavated in the Nahal Snir area. The purpose was to prevent contamination in case of an oil spill, but the canal prevented the water from flowing into the Dan River.
In October 2013, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Kinneret Drainage and Streams Authority decide to restore the Nuheyla valley.
After more than 40 years without water - the authorities poured water into the gorge, and the move rehabilitated the 18 hectares of humid habitat that connects the Tel Dan Nature Reserve and the Nuheyla valley.
These efforts were joined by the 769 IDF Brigade. "Protecting Israel is not just about protecting the people, it is also about protecting the land," said education officer and second lieutenant, Halel Debel, who led the project in the brigade in the past few months.
According to Debel, over the two years of work, the soldiers and officers of the brigade, as well as the SPNI , were able to create something that would serve the people of Israel for generations - and also preserve the environment at the same time.
Director of the education and information center of SPNI in the Golan area, Naama Mansfeld, added that "the Nuheyla trail contains exciting historical stories, rarely seen scenery, cool springs, and a place that serves as a great habitat for many wild animals".
"I was excited to see the brigade commander and his deputy bring in all the officers and soldiers for a toast to the Nuheyla trail, which was nurtured and restored by the brigade," Mansfeld who accompanies the Nature Defenses Forces project in northern Israel said.
"That is the main purpose of this project, to give the opportunity to protect both the borders and the security of Israel, as well as the ecological environment, and after working closely with the commanders and the soldiers of the 769 Brigade for two years, the Nuheyla restoration gave me a tremendous satisfaction."