In 1951, the Jewish National Fund began the colossal project of draining the Hula Lake and its surrounding swamps. The draining operations were completed by 1958. The project became the standard-bearer of the entire Zionist movement; it was a symbol of the re-establishment of the Jewish national homeland in Israel. The drainage sites became major tourist attractions – so much so, that it was necessary to restrict sightseeing in order to prevent hindrance to the progress of the work.
Israel’s First Nature Reserve
Some scientists and nature lovers waged a vigorous battle to conserve at least part of the original landscape. As a result of their call to action, in 1953 the government agreed to set aside 800 acres for Israel’s first nature reserve – which was established only in 1964 when Nature Reserves Authority was created.
Although initially the draining had been perceived as a great national achievement for Israel, it soon became apparent that the “drying out” was ruining the region’s unique ecological balance. Part of the marine life disappeared, and the wildlife population declined. The Hula painted frog as well as some rare fish species vanished. Since 1996 the IUCN has classified the Hula painted frog as extinct. However, restoration efforts have been successful, for in November 2011, park patrollers saw the painted frog’s reappearance.
The rich indigenous flora was also dying out, and strong winds (Sharkiyah in Arabic) in the valley blew away the soil. The peat of the dry swamp ignited spontaneously, causing underground fires that were difficult to extinguish and dangerous caverns began to form within the peat. Plus, the weathered peat soils turned into an infertile black dust. These particular problems have been solved by keeping the fields watered by sprinklers that move along the fields on wheels.
In addition, it was discovered that Israel’s main supply of fresh water, the Kinneret, was significantly deteriorating, since the Hula Lake was no longer there to serve as a natural filtration basin along the upper parts of the Jordan River.
The Hand of Heaven intervened in the early 1990s, and part of the valley was flooded in the wake of heavy rains. Taking the above environmental consideration into account the government, in an unprecedented move, resolved to undo the damage by restoring a section of the Hula Valley to its former state. It was decided to leave the flooded area intact and develop the surrounding area into Hula Lake Park – Agamon HaHula. (Agamon is an affectionate diminutive from of Agam [Lake]). At the end of April 1994, the waters of the Jordan River once again flowed into a restored section of the drained area.
The project continues into the 21st century. Visitors can now visit the Agamon HaHula and spend a few hours enjoying the rare species of plants, birds, and fish that live there.
The beautiful magical Agamon is one fifteenth of the original Hula Lake. Its lush vegetation, green fields, and flocks of birds that enchant the eye offer a picturesque scene of serenity against the grandeur of Mount Hermon.
A Bird Watcher’s Paradise
The lake covers an area of one square kilometer interspersed with islands that serve as protected bird nesting sites, and the new site has become the second home for thousands of migrating birds in the autumn and spring. Several tens of thousands birds, fleeing from the Eastern Europe and Russia winters, visit Agmon Hula.
The nature conservation authorities even feed the birds in order to avoid damage to the fishing industry in the area. After the original Hula was drained, great economic losses occurred since many of birds were quick to discover commercial fish ponds as an alternative source of food. For this reason the managers of the Hula Restoration Project the food supply by artificial stocking.
It’s amazing to watch the birds feeding. The English saying, “birds of a feather flock together” comes to mind when seeing how each different species arrive to feed separately.