The Trans-Jordan Trail
Urban Crossroads #67

Jordan has a decent road network. It might also get a rail network as the importance of developing one for the country finally is being acknowledged. A very useful addition to those two infrastructure networks is a transportation venue of a different nature, the Trans-Jordan Trail: a route for pedestrians, hikers, and even cyclists that would cross Jordan from north to south.

The trail would cover over 415 kilometers, depending on its exact course. Developing such a trail is a complex endeavor that will take many years to complete. One advantage of the project, however, is that it may be created in stages, with each stage being fully functional as soon as it is completed.

This project touches upon many domains: recreation, tourism (and by extension, the economy), and environmental protection. Jordan’s geography and nature express wonderful diversity (although the nature part is increasingly coming under serious threat). The country also has an incredible historical heritage. Traverse the country from north to south and you will come across forests, semi-deserts, as well as agricultural lands that produce fruits and olives to wheat and vegetables. You will come across the highlands of Ajloun and Tafileh, which receive snowfall in the winter, and the Jordan Valley, which boasts the lowest point on earth, and with it, warm year-round weather. You will come across a wide diversity of historical sites dating to the pre-historic, Roman, Byzantine, Early-Islamic, Crusader, and Ottoman periods. Some of these sites are located in relatively isolated areas; others are in the midst of urban centers. Imagine being able to visit all of this by foot or by bike. The Trans-Jordan Trail would allow you to do so.

A trail of this sort will appeal to a wide variety of users including schoolchildren, local and foreign tourists, nature and history enthusiasts, hikers, and even those who just want to enjoy a leisurely stroll.

The Trans-Jordan Trail has to be thought of in terms of sections, with each section linking up to the next to eventually create one long continuous route that crosses the country. Each section would cover a certain distance, possibly the equivalent of a one-hour walk, and would begin and end at a “station”. The station simply may be a place accessible from the country’s road system where cars may be parked. It could be more than that, as with a location that sells something to drink or eat for users of the trail, a place that offers tourist information, or even an area where one could camp or find a hotel room. These stations could be located in the countryside or in the middle of cities. They could be at the location of a heritage site or an urban park.

Users of the trail simply may take a two-hour walk that leads them from one station to the other and back. A section of a trail could be located entirely within an urban center, as in the old parts of Jabal Amman or Jabal Luweibdeh with their 1920s to 1960s architectural heritage, or through the late-19th and early-20th-century parts of the city of Salt. It also could be part of a natural setting, as with the forests of Dibbin or the rugged mountainous landscapes of Dhana. The more ambitious users could cover a series of sections, and the most ambitious could cover the whole trail, thus crossing the country.

Local communities would take part in deciding on the path of the trail that passes through their area, on the stations at its sections, and on how to construct it. Schools, companies, and social organizations, amongst others, could adopt sections and take charge of their construction or upkeep. A national body would need to oversee the trail’s planning, implementation, management, and maintenance, as well as publishing maps and other information about it. Although the project as a whole may take decades to complete, it can be completed one section at a time. Each section would function on its own, and would only be enhanced with the completion of the one next to it.

Parts of the Trans-Jordan Trail will have to be developed from scratch, but much of it already exists, as with the urban sections of the trail, which simply would follow pre-existing streets and alleyways, or parts located in natural settings, which would follow existing nature trails. Some standards will need to be established for the trail to address issues of accessibility, signage, and the minimal amenities available at stations, but many parts of the trail can be made to meet those standards with minimal intervention.

A trail of this sort can emerge as an integral part of Jordan’s identity. It will contribute to defining Jordan’s cultural and geographic landscapes, and will become a landmark of which the people of Jordan will be proud, and those from outside Jordan will want to visit.

The trail will be a protected public domain, and will help efforts at preserving the cultural and natural settings through which it passes. It will emphasize and enhance their value and will help display their importance for the benefit and enjoyment of its users today and in the future. It will generate economic activity as residents of Jordan and visitors from abroad use the trail and the services located at the stations connecting one section of the trail to the next.

The idea of creating a trail of a few hundred kilometers may seem daunting, but far longer trails of a similar nature are being created. The best known of these is probably the Trans-Canada Trail. This trail was conceived less than 20 years ago, and about two-thirds of it already is functioning. It is the longest such trail in the world and covers a distance of over 18,000 kilometers. The Trans-Jordan Trail will only need to be about one-fortieth the length of the Trans-Canada Trail. Making the Trans-Jordan Trail a reality is a challenging but definitely attainable task.

Mohammad al-Asad

April 5, 2007