One of the most monumental projects in the framework of the monumental Google Street View enterprise is underway in Israel: The photographing of the Israel National Trail – all 1,100 kilometers (approx. 660 miles) of it.
The project will be the longest photographic record of a hiking trail ever, and the first-ever of a hiking trail that stretches the length of an entire country. It celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Israel National Trail and the 10th of Google Israel.
Over the next three months, 18 Youth Volunteers of the SPNI will hike the Israel National Trail, from Kibbutz Dan in the north to the SPNI Field School in Eilat. They will take turns carrying on their backs two 18-kg., 360-degree Google Street View Trekker cameras to map the trail.
The Israel National Trail was inaugurated by the SPNI in 1995, creating a hiking track across the entire country. It passes through the northern Galilee, Mt. Carmel area, along the Mediterranean coastline, Tel Aviv, Rosh Ha’ayin, Elad, the Modiin area, the Judean lowlands, archaeological sites at Bet Guvrin, the Negev wildernesses and the Eilat Mountains. It specifically, however, does not pass through Judea and Samaria, though a tiny stretch passes through what was no-man's land, between 1948 and 1967, near Latrun in central Israel.
Israel, founded on a long history of love of the land, features some 15,000 kilometers of official hiking trails. These are marked every several tens of meters with three-color signs, ensuring hikers that they are on the right path. The colors of the Israel National Trail are orange, blue, and white, as seen in the photo. For those going north, the white stripe is higher, indicating the direction of the snow-clad Mt. Hermon; for south-bound hikers, the orange stripe is higher, pointing towards the sandy Negev.
Google’s Street View project, launched in May 2007, is currently available in 66 countries. The feature enables users to virtually navigate neighborhoods, historical sites, museums and public buildings through panoramic pictures taken at street level. Photographs have been taken, so far, of over 9 million kilometers of roads.
Three years ago, National Geographic named the Israel National Trail as one of the top 20 national trails in the world. Several of the others, such as Khumbu Valley at the foot of Mount Everest in Nepal, the Colorado River, and the largest corals in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, can already be "trekked" on Google Street View.
The Director of SPNI, Moshe Pakman, said, “SPNI sees a great importance in presenting and exposing the country and its nature to both Israelis and world citizens. Exposing the Israel National Trail through Street View will encourage tourists from Israel and abroad to experience with their feet and their senses the various cultures and landscapes of Israel, to fall in love with them and to take action to preserve them."
Meir Brand, CEO of Google Israel, said, “We are proud to be cooperating with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and are happy to map the Israel National Trail in honor of hikers from Israel and abroad. After we complete this project the Israel National Trail will join the world’s greatest heritage and nature sites that exist in Google Maps.”