By Allison Levine/JNS.org
Signs along the road remind drivers and hikers not to drop fruits or vegetables on the ground as they make their way through the Negev desert. It’s a small request for people to help preserve the unique nature of the desert ecosystem by not introducing invasive species to the area.
When you arrive at Timna Valley National Park in southern Israel, located a half hour north of Eilat and facing the nearby mountains of Jordan, you see the preservation of the desert on a much larger scale.
Timna Park was established 30 years ago as a joint project of Jewish National Fund (JNF) and the Chudnow family of Milwaukee, Wis., as well as Keren Kayemet LeIsrael (KKL-JNF) and the Eilot Regional Council.
On March 20, members of the Chudnow family visited the park to take part in a dedication of the new Chudnow Family Visitor Center, located just inside the park’s entrance. The new center provides tourists and history buffs with interactive overviews and explanations of the historic copper mines scattered throughout the park, and will also serve as an event hall for special occasions.
The Chudnow family’s involvement with Timna began in the early 1980s, when Avrum Chudnow supported the idea of building a man-made lake in the Timna desert valley—a project many had dubbed “impossible.” Three decades later, not only is there a lake, but there’s also a restaurant and a gift shop sitting along the lake’s shore. Over the last 30 years, hiking trails, exhibits, and activities have also been developed throughout the 15,000-acre park. A flotilla of seven peddle boats were also part of the recent Chudnow dedication and will be a regular recreational attraction at the lake.
Avrum “Abe” Chudnow’s mission was to preserve, and at the same time create, something that would be enjoyed for generations to come. At the dedication, Abe’s son, David, recalled that his father visited Timna Park in 1984 for the groundbreaking of the lake construction. “My father was a true visionary leader whose passion was to inspire, educate, and preserve Israel’s heritage,” said David, who also noted that his father “had a very clear understanding that this part of the country was in serious need of an economic boost, and that this was a huge way to help the region.”
Timna Valley is home to copper mines that are thousands of years old as well as towering, unusual rock formations. The contrasts in the area feature small patches of flowers blooming in the colored sands of the sprawling desert. In terms of exploring the site’s history, research continues to take place in Timna. Ancient textiles dating back 3,000 years were recently uncovered at the park by archaeologists from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority. Experts have been able to recreate ancient copper smelting production and mines that mark the presence of prior civilizations who used the area for its natural resources. Stone-carved portraits are constantly being discovered in the park.
In a recorded message for the visitor center dedication ceremony, JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson said that although the history of the Timna Valley dates back thousands of years, “the real history of Timna Park dates to Abe Chudnow, and his commitment to making a vision into reality.”
Udi Gat, head of the Eilot Regional Council, proudly said that “some donations are game-changers.” Hoping to double the population of his region within the next 15-20 years, he said more jobs are needed in the area.
“Timna Park already employs 30-40 workers. That’s a whole lot of families who have income from an opportunity that wasn’t around 30 years ago,” said Gat.
Additionally, the improved facilities and programs will bring more tourists and an economic boost to the region. Gat emphasized that it is “with people like the Chudnow family that we will be able to make this region grow.”
David Chudnow remarked that his father “felt that Timna was the biggest accomplishment of his life,” but David and other family members have been essential to carrying on the family’s legacy and commitment to the park since Abe’s passing in 2005. Looking at other projects currently underway in the area, David mentions the new Ramon Airport, which is being built just a few minutes down the road from the entrance to Timna, as an example of the promise of growth in the area. “The airport is going to make a big difference for the Negev,” said David. “It’s going to be huge for economic development, employment, as well as for Timna.”
Chagit Gal, Timna Park’s manager, echoes that thought.
“The airport will be bringing in many tourists, and our hope is that they’ll choose to stay in the valley or in the park before heading straight to Eilat,” Gal said. A camping site within the park and a theater are some of the projects in the works at Timna.
“The future is very bright for Timna Park and this entire region. We are just getting started,” added Gal.
Timna is located close to other JNF projects in the region, such as Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center at Kibbutz Grofit and the Center for Creative Ecology at Kibbutz Lotan. In his message to the Chudnow family at the dedication, Danny Atar, world chairman for KKL, said it is KKL’s mission to help Jews live in all corners of the country, including the periphery. He also cited the strong connection Jews around world have for Israel, and that “there is no other people in the world with this kind of a connection” to a country that they may not live in.
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