Iyon Stream Nature Reserve

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In the Nahal Ayun Nature Reserve, where the stream passes from the Ayun Valley in the "Finger of Galilee" to the Hula Valley, there is a beautiful gorge with many flowing waterfalls.

​After dozens of years in which the stream ran dry in summer due to Lebanon's diversion of the waters, the Nature and Parks Authority took action to renew the flow in the stream with the help of water pumped in from Nahal Dan, in order to rehabilitate the unique Nahal Ayun eco-system.

Major Centers of Interest

  • Day camping area for picnics in the northern area of the stream.

  • The gorge of Nahal Ayun and its waterfalls:  Ayun Falls, the Mill Falls, the Cascades, and the Tanur Waterfall.

  • Pump at En Sukhra

  • Seasonal flowering of the Maritime Squill (Drimia Maritina)

  • The Tanur Lookout Point (Gafni) - observation point towards the Tanur Waterfall and downstream

  • Southern day-camping/parking area for picnics, and three paddling pools

  • Wheelchair-accessible path, for disabled persons and for children's strollers, from the day camping area up to the area of the Tanur Waterfall.

 

Particulars (Major Centers of Interest):

  • Day camping/parking area for picnics in the northern area of the stream - the camping area is located at the edge of the Moshava Metula, and is the northern entry gate into the nature reserve.  There is a well-established eucalyptus grove here, suitable for picnics and barbeques.  There are toilets in the camping area for the use of visitors, and it is permitted to light fires in the area.

  • The Nahal Ayun gorge and its waterfalls - a walking route for hiking buffs.  It is recommended to walk down the stream, from the northern camping area close to Metula, down to the southern camping area.  The route is not circular, and you will need to leave a car at the termination point in the southern camping area.  The major attraction in the gorge is the waterfalls - the Ayun waterfall, the Mill waterfall, the Cascades and the Tanur waterfall.  These waterfalls flow all year round, and along the channel there is an abundance of water vegetation.    Two of the waterfalls are considered especially beautiful and impressive:  The Mill Waterfall - relatively broad, 21 meters high, alongside which are the remains of a flour mill that, in the past, was the only flour mill in the country under Jewish ownership;  and the Tanur Waterfall, 30 m. high, one of the highest perennial streams in Israel.

  • The pump at En Sukhra - along the channel of Nahal Ayun there are a number of small springs and pools that contain water all year round.  Fish live in these pools even when the rest of the stream runs completely dry. En Sukhra, located south of the Mill Waterfall, is one of the most prominent of these springs.  The waters of the spring were utilized to water the land of neighboring Metula up to 1957, and the remains of the irrigation pump have been left in place.

  • Seasonal flowering of the Maritime Squill (Drimia maritima)  - on the slopes west of the gorge, in the vicinity of the Metula Cemetery, blooms a spectacular field of maritime squill.

  • The Tanur Lookout Point (Gafni) - an impressive observation point, from which the Tanur Falls can be seen, with a view of the Hills of Naftali and the Hula Valley.  The lookout point is reached by a steep path with many stairs.

  • Day camping/parking site for picnics with three paddling pools - the southern camping site is the main camping/parking area in the nature reserve, serving both hikers on the long route and those visiting the Tanur Waterfall only.  There is a stand of trees at the campsite with picnic tables, and it is permitted to light fires there.  There are also toilets, a kiosk selling snacks and three new paddling pools, enabling visitors to enjoy the abundance of water in the stream.

  • Trail for disabled persons and for children's strollers - the last part of the walking route in the nature reserve, from the Tanur Waterfall down to the southern camping site has been made accessible for people who have difficulty walking. 

lookout points

  • An observation station from the upper camping/parking area towards the north-west - to the Ayun Valley in Lebanon (the source of Nahal Ayun's water) and the villages surrounding it (Kfar Kala, Al-Kali'ah and Al-Hiyam), as well as in the direction of the ancient Beaufort Fortress.

  • Observation post in the direction of the Mill Falls

  • Lookout point at the Cascades

  • The panoramic observation point towards the Tanur Falls and downstream.

  • The Tanur lookout point (Gafni) - a view of the Tanur Falls, the Hula Valley and the Hills of Naftali.

Identity card

Status:  Nahal Ayun was declared a nature reserve in 1968.

Reasons for the Declaration:

  • To preserve the scenery of the falls and cliffs - very rare in Israel, maintaining a rich world of various species of fauna and flora.

  • Legacy values:  the flour mill and remains of an ancient path (Nekuvta de-Ayun).

  • Remains of an ancient city, an important legacy site in Israel.

  • Species of flora and fauna unique to the reserve: shrubby ptilostemon (Ptilostemon Chamaepeuce) (a plant growing in Israel only here), and other rare species, such as the syrian maple (Acer obtusifolium) (the only site it grows on between Mt. Hermon and the Miron Mountains), the rough-leaved michauxia (Michauxia campanuloides), the wallcreeper bird (Tichodroma muraria), unique invertebrates and others.  
             

Location in Israel:

"Finger of Galilee" - the reserve is adjacent to and east of the Moshava Metula, very near the border with Lebanon.

 

Activities​ of the Nature and Parks Authority

  • Ensuring the flow of water in summer - Nahal Ayun is a perennial stream that flows all year round.  In the 20th century, Lebanese farmers began to exploit all the waters of the springs during the summer months and the Israeli part of the stream began to run dry in those months.  For many years the falls would dry up in summer and the fish survived only in a number of deep shady pools.  In the absence of a political solution for releasing the waters of the spring to flow in the stream, the Nature and Parks Authority initiated an artificial flow of water in the summer months by digging wells in the region of Nahal Dan and allowing the water to flow into Nahal Ayun.  This project was begun in 2009 and has continued since then every year.

  • Monitoring species of fauna and flora in the reserve - in the waters of the stream live various species of invertebrates, some of them very rare.  When water was fed artificially into the reserve in summer there was a concern that some of the unique natural values of the reserve would be accidentally harmed.  In order to prevent such harm, seasonal studies and surveys are constantly conducted in the reserve, with the aim of examining the effect of the artificial flow of water on the sensitive eco-system.  Certain groups of fauna are especially monitored:  fish, water snails (the freshwater mollusc Melanopsis praemorsa) and others.

  • Interface with agriculture - the reserve borders on private agricultural land.  Over the years there has been significant "agricultural pressure" on the reserve - agricultural land clearance for the expansion of plantations that intruded on the edges of the reserve area, and illegal hunting and trapping within and on the edges of the reserve.   These occurrences require continuous supervision in order to stop ongoing damage to the reserve.

  • Protection of flora in the reserve - ongoing enforcement of the prohibition against picking and collecting naturally-growing herbs and wild flowers in the area of the reserve.

  • Dealing with species of intrusive flora - over the years a few eucalyptus groves were planted in the reserve, from where eucalyptus seedlings spread along the stream.  This tree, originating from Australia, grows to a great height and creates heavy shade and crowds out the local wild species. In recent years, some of the eucalyptus trees have been cut down in order to improve the ecological functioning of the reserve.  Castor-oil-plants (Ricinus communis) and fir seedlings have also been uprooted, since they do not grow naturally in the reserve area.

  • Prevention of erosion - the steep slopes of the stream are prone to accelerated erosion, especially at the edges of the agricultural fields and the built-up areas of the Moshava Metula.  In order to halt the erosion rocks have been piled up at certain points in the reserve.

  • Accessibility of the walking route - this included the construction of wooden bridges along the walking route and laying an accessible path for people who have difficulty in walking and for families coming with children in strollers.

  • Paddling pools - too many visitors and recreationers paddling in the water of the stream has an adverse effect on the quality of the water, causing the soil to float up and reducing the quantity of oxygen available for fish and invertebrates.  The tendency of visitors to remove stones from the bottom of the pools also contributes to the disappearance of hiding places used by the fauna in the water.  In order to improve visitors' experience and to limit their impact to a restricted area of the stream, three paddling pools were constructed in the vicinity of the camping/parking area, so that people can cool off in the cold water while lessening their effect on the eco-system. 

Fauna


The unique combination of tall cliffs and flowing water creates a varied ecology.  Especially worthy of mention are a number of species of fish and a broad range of invertebrates living in the waters of the stream all year round.  The cliffs serve as nesting places for rock pigeons as well as for the largest nocturnal raptors in Israel - the Eurasian eagle-owl (bubo-bubo).

The creature most identified with the reserve is the bright red wallcreeper bird (Tichodroma muraria) - very rare in Israel, which comes to us for short visits and makes its home in the cliffs.  The Nahal Ayun nature reserve and the Arbel Nature Reserve are the best places in Israel to encounter this bird.  Rock pigeons (which currently interbreed with house pigeons) nest in the cliffs, together with a pair of eagle-owls.  The steep cliffs are not suitable for the activities of large mammals, but wild boars and porcupines do live in the reserve.

In the flowing channel a variety of invertebrates are most prominent:   the freshwater mollusc (Melanopsis praemorsa), dragonflies (Anisoptera) and damselflies (Zygoptera), primitive crustaceans and water insects.  A study conducted in 2002 identified 57 species of large invertebrates in the stream, three types of amphibians and three species of fish.  Two kinds of water insects have been documented in Israel only in this reserve.  When the flow of water in summer was renewed by bringing water in from Nahal Dan, there was a concern for damage to the variety of unique invertebrates in Nahal Ayun, some of which do not live in Nahal Dan.  In order to reduce the harm to the rare species, the range of species in the stream is constantly monitored.  Large numbers of visitors wading in the water also causes damage to the activity of the invertebrates and therefore, as well for safety reasons, it is forbidden to enter the water within the bounds of the reserve except for the paddling pools at the southern end of the reserve.

Flora

The reserve contains typical Mediterranean vegetation as well as plants from the Arava and from moist habitats. The vegetation combines patches of Mediterranean woodland, river-bank plants, as well as areas of batha and shrubs in the drier areas further away from the flowing water.  The rarest species of plants in the reserve are the shrubby ptilostemon (Ptilostemon Chamaepeuce), a shrubby thistle from the Asteraceae family, with leaves similar to those of fir trees, and are known in Israel only here and on Mt. Hermon. Other rare species are the rough-leaved michauxia (Michauxia campanuloides) and the syrian maple (Acer obtusifolium).  On the cliffs and on stony areas the flowers of the Jerusalem Spurge (Euphorbia hierosolymitana) are very prominent in the spring, but there are also other species, some of which form carpets of blooms in the various seasons, such as the Maritime Squill (Drimia Maritina) (on "Squill Hill"), Eromostachys laciniata (near the Tanur lookout point), fritillaries (Fritillaria persica) and acanthus (Acanthus syriacus).   Alongside the flowing water willow trees and giant cane (Arundo donax) are prominent. 

In order to properly monitor the changes in the vegetation in the reserve over the years, monitoring plots have been set aside where the species of flora are monitored on an annual basis.

Archaeology

Around the gorge of the stream (outside the reserve) are the remains of the ancient city Avel Bet Ma'akha, mentioned in the Bible together with the cities Ayun and Dan in the list of cities on the northern boundary of the Kingdom of Israel (Kings I, Chapter 15, Verse 20).  The Bible mentions the narrow passage from the Hula Valley to the Ayun Valley, which is called "Nekuvta de'Ayun".  This pass is part of one of the ancient roads in the region, a branch of the ancient Via Maris. 

History


The importance of the reserve arose in modern times, with the development of the nearby Moshava Metula (established in 1896).  The residents of Metula exploited the waters of the stream and the surrounding springs for drinking, irrigating their fields, as well as for milling flour in the flour mill at the Mill Falls, which was purchased by the Baron Rothschild.  This flour mill boasts the highest chimney in Israel (15 meters).  The mill was abandoned when the residents of Metula fled in 1920, after the fall of Tel-Hay, and its operation was never resumed even after they returned.  When the northern borders of Israel were delineated by negotiations between the British and the French, the gorge of this stream was included within the British Mandate, but the Ayun Valley and its source springs remained beyond the border.  In World War II the British integrated the region in their defense system against the Vichy forces in Lebanon, and they erected a dam downstream of the Ayun Waterfall in order to supply drinking water to the nearby camps.  This area was one of the routes used for smuggling illegal immigrants into Palestine by land, and the Ayun Bridge is one of those that were blown up by the Palmah on the famous "Night of the Bridges" in 1946. 

Geology and Geomorphology


Within the reserve the Ayun Stream descends from 500 m. (measured at the edges of the Ayun Valley) to 350 m. above sea level at its exit to the Hula Valley.  These height differences are noticeable on the ground in the form of a deep gorge, with five levels, some of which are the highest flowing waterfalls in Israel (the Mill Falls and the Tanur Waterfall).  A number of geological faults pass along the gorge, and its upper section is broken up by chalky limestone.   The main part of the gorge is broken up by a layer of river conglomerate, while downstream Eocene chalk is exposed.

Hydrology


A unique man-made situation was maintained for many years in Nahal Ayun - perennial springs with a stream that runs dry in summer.

The stream's principal springs rise in Lebanon (En el'Kutsir and En Dardara), and every summer the whole quantity of their water is exploited by the Lebanese farmers.  This led to a situation where the stream flowing through Israel ran dry in summer.  All that changed in 2009, when Israel began artificially channeling water from the Dan springs into the reserve.  

Nahal Ayun is one of the four sources of the Jordan River.  The stream was originally a perennial stream, whose flow increases strongly in the winter months.  Its average capacity is 1.5 cu.m. per second, and when flooding occurs it even attains 25 cu.m. per second.  Due to the exploitation of the water in Lebanon, the flow in the stream dries up in summer, except for a few small springs (En Sukhra, the Cascades spring and the Tanur spring) and the deep pools at the foot of the waterfalls which serve as havens for fish and some unique vertebrates.  Since 2009 water has been channeled from the Nahal Dan to Nahal Ayun in the summer months, in order to recreate the natural appearance of the perennial stream.  The scope of the flow is 80 cu.m. per hour, and it is done with the help of the "Yuval Water" Society.  The choice of the waters of Nahal Dan was made after examining the quality of the water in a few places.  Examination showed that the water in the Dan stream is of the best possible quality.  In order to avoid accidental damage to the quality of the Nahal Ayun water and to the natural variety of species living there, this action was accompanied by lengthy deliberations by the Nature and Parks Authority.

How to get there:
To the Tanur Waterfall - by the Kiryat Shmona - Metula road.  About 1 km south of Metula - turn east.


To the Ayun Waterfall and Stream - by the road beginning at the north-eastern end of Metula, near the border fence.

Length of the walk: 30-90 minutes

 

Recommended season: All year round

What else is there?
Lookout points, picnic areas, cafeteria, paddling pools

Opening hours:

The reserve is closed about one hour before the times given below:


Summer Time:
Sundays thru Thursdays and Shabbat:  08:00 - 17:00
Fridays and eves of religious festivals:  08:00 - 16:00
July-August:  08:00 - 18:00.  Latest entry into the long route - 16:00.

 

Winter Time:
Sundays thru Thursdays and Shabbat:  08:00 - 16:00
Fridays and eves of religious festivals:  08:00 - 15:00

Latest entry into the long route - one hour and a half before closing time.
On the eves of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Pesach: 08:00 - 13:00

Communication:

Telephone: 04-6951519

 Fax: 04-6951610
e-mail:  st-iyyon@npa.org.il

Entrance Fees

Single: Adults- NIS 28;  Children: NIS 14;
Groups (over 30 persons): Adults NIS 23;  Children:  NIS 13
Students:  NIS 24


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