For one thing, the climate is dryer,
For another, the terrain is, hillier, rockier and just more unforgiving.
And for a third, it winds through Jewish and Arab villages in the heart of Israel — hardly a commuter trail like the Eliza Furnace Trail, known as the Jail Trail, which links Pittsburgh’s Downtown with its East End.
Yet for all those differences, leaders of Karmiel and Misgav — Pittsburgh’s sister communities in Israel — hope the new Partnership 2000 Trail will be the “wow project” the central Galilee needs to attract tourists.
“The goal in the long run is to make this trail connect to the network of bike trails throughout Israel,” said Mike Garfinkel, chairman of regional development for the Partnership 2000 Steering Committee of the United Jewish Federation.
The 22-mile trail, which opened in May, was built as a collaborative effort between the UJF, its Partnership 2000 communities of Karmiel and Misgav, the Israeli government and the Jewish National Fund.
A Pittsburgh delegation led by Pittsburgh Partnership 2000 Co-Chairs Skip Grinberg and Linda Simon, along with former Pittsburgh Partnership 2000 Chair Louis Kushner, traveled to Israel in May for the grand opening.
More recently, two groups of Pittsburghers, 45 counselors in training from Emma Kaufmann Camp and seven Wexner Heratage Program participants, rode the trail.
“The trail is rocky, it’s beautiful but it’s rustic,” said Jane Rollman, one of the seven Wexner riders. “So if someone is expecting the Jail Trail that’s not what it is, but you can be most any level of cyclist.”
“The paths were great. It looked well groomed; it was great,” said Gregg Kander another Wexner rider and an avid cyclist. “It was well marked and I liked that they had three languages.”
He was referring to the signage along the trail in English, Hebrew and Arabic. The P2K Trail may be the only one in Israel with signage in three languages.
The idea for the trail was conceived in 2006 following the Second Lebanon War.
“There was a downturn in the economy; tourism was down,” Garfinkel said. “The Partnership Steering Committee… had meetings and brainstorming about how to rejuvenate tourism in the area and bring people not only from Israel, but internationally, to the Galilee.”
One woman, Roma Manor, at the time general manager of Misgav, conceived the idea of a "wow project," something so exciting it would draw tourists in and out of Israel.
All sides settled on the idea for a bike trail.
The trail, which is open to bikers and hikers, connects Karmiel and Misgav. It crosses residential neighborhoods, open spaces and nature reserves. Most important, perhaps, it meanders through Jewish communities and Arab villages.
“This was a unique project,” Garfinkel said. “It got the cooperation of literally a dozen or so landowners — not only Jewish, but Arabic — and governments of small villages, city councils, etc. It was an almost unheard of effort to get the cooperation of all these people.”
The result was a trail that has routes for cyclists of all skill levels. In Karmiel, the trail is paved; in some parts it is rocky and hilly; in others, it juts through dry riverbeds.
The UJF put up $70,000 in seed money for the project, but funding came from other sources as well, including the municipalities and the Israeli government.
Work is far from done. Though the trail is open, the infrastructure to support it must still be developed. That includes bed and breakfasts, bike rentals stations and trailheads, according to Garfinkel.
“It’s still not a completed trail yet,” he said. “They need buy-ins from businessmen and investors to make this an ultimate attraction. The people are coming, now there has to be someone who comes in there and builds some appropriate businesses along the way.”
Then there is the ultimate goal of making it part of a national trail network.
“This trail must be a part of the expanded regional development of trails from the Mediterranean to the Kinneret,” Misgav Mayor Ron Shani said in a prepared statement, “and from the north down to the south of the country.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)