The Swiss Forest is a forest is situated above the city of Tiberias on the western edge of the Syrian African rift on the western side of the Kinneret. The Forest lies on the steep slope descending from the Poriah Heights to Tiberias by the Sea of Galilee and covers an area of 3 000 dunams from Upper Tiberias in the north to the Poriah Hostel in the south.
The Forest was established in 1928 by the Forestry Branch of the Palestinian Mandate government and today is under the direction of the Jewish National Fund. The Forest was established to prevent flooding such as in the Great Flood of 1934 when mud and torrential floods destroyed property and caused a number of deaths in Tiberias.
The Forest was planted by KKL-JNF thanks to a contribution from friends of KKL-JNF in Switzerland, which is how it got its name. KKL-JNF developed scenic lookouts, observation points and paths throughout the forest for enjoying the great outdoors.
The steep slope is a result of the sinking of the Kinneret basin and the elevation of the Arbel Cliff and Mount Berenice. The average incline is 30% and the descent is 1 200 meters from 242 meters above sea level to 208 meters below sea level.
The soil west of Tiberias is loose clay-like marlstone, which erodes as a result of the rainwater that flows with great force. The warm surface of the earth causes the air that comes from the west to rise, condense and cause strong rains. During the transitional seasons this causes the singular phenomenon of cloudbursts with many millimeters of rain within a very short period of time. This is why the location has a history of disasters. The most well known was the major landslide in 1934 in which 25 residents of Tiberias died.
The trees planted on the slopes near Tiberias were meant to prevent erosion and create a green area for outings and recreation in natural surroundings. Afforestation and land preservation were already started in 1927 by the British Mandate Forestry Department and were continued by KKL-JNF with the aim of preventing runoff and soil erosion by stabilizing the soil on the slope.
Until the late 1950s, two main species of trees were planted, River Red Gum and Coojong, along with other species including Persian Turpentine, Carob, Buckthorn, Eucalyptus, Jerusalem Pine and more. In the 1960s, the forest showed signs of tree degeneration for various reasons such as unsuitability to the region, fires, tree felling and uncontrolled grazing.
In response to this situation, KKL-JNF began to improve the forest, including trail blazing, constructing a drainage basin to prevent damage due to flooding and erosion, and planting suitable trees. The tree that met the requirements of the local conditions best was a Cypress called the Tetraclinis, also certain species of Eucalyptus and Acacia. It also became evident that the Senna Bush grows well and serves as a wind breaker and sand stabilizer. Indigenous woodland trees were also planted, such as Jujube, Carob, Persian Turpentine and more.
Drainage in the forest has been a persistent problem. The KKL-JNF have worked to contain the runoff creating paths which serve as diversion canals. By using the existing ravine channels and adding diversions to some of them as necessary. Culverts were constructed along the two forest roads, with a channel trellis approximately every 200 meters. This allows the water to flow without washing away the soil and to drain into the Sea of Galilee in an orderly manner. Shrubs and various grasses were also planted beside the water channels. In order not to harm the delicate texture of the earth, these projects were executed without mechanical tools. Each part of The Forest has been carefully planned by the foresters.
Observation Points along the Scenic Road
The roads in The Switzerland Forest are an integral part of the system for regulating the flow of surplus water to prevent it from causing damage. The main road is a scenic asphalt road that has concrete and stone ducts paved to help manage the water flow. The road is 6km long and runs from Tiberias to the Poriah Hostel. The roads below this are dirt roads and are used by foresters and firefighters.
There are three observation points along the road with fabulous views of the Lake, the Galilee mountains, the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon. Two of the picnic and recreation areas have children playgrounds.
When traveling the scenic route from the road to the Poriah Hostel you will pass by planting center with cypress trees, carobs and more. Further along there is a covered observation deck. Across from the deck, on the other side of the road, is the Guttmann Recreation Area, which has a picnic area and playground. A footpath that starts here goes north parallel to the road but slightly lower. The footpath ends at a lookout with two levels. The footpath is 750 meters long and takes about half an hour to walk.
There is another lookout about a kilometer north. This has covered observation areas for viewing Tiberias from three directions. Further north is the Kestenbaum Recreation Area, where there is wheelchair access to the picnic tables.
Ein Poriah is a spring located on the eastern escarpment of Mount Poriah, about a kilometre east of Upper Poriah. Its water derives from a crevice and drains into a storage pool. The water supply is about three cubic meters per hour. In Arabic the spring is called Ein el Malkha which means the salty spring. Its salinity is about 1 200mg chlorine per litre.