The Elroy-Sparta Trail *Weekend Open Thread*


Longtime reader and friend, piper, has noted a number of times in her Comments about the fun bike trips she has taken. Piper has been kind enough to share with us photos and historic information about her most recent excursion on The Elroy-Sparta Trail, “The Granddaddy of them all.”

What is really cool about this trail is that it used to be part of the railroad (Helen, I think you might find this of particular interest). Check out this information from The Elroy-Sparta Trail:

The 32 mile railroad grade which stretches across the watersheds of three rivers, the Baraboo, Kickapoo, and LaCrosse, was formerly owned by the Northwestern Railroad.  An account of railroad operations on the Elroy-Sparta line reveals a rich and colorful history.  Without doubt, the most fascinating thing about the right-of-way is it’s three tunnels.  To maintain low gradiant it was necessary to dig tunnels through the three hills that seperate Kendall from Wilton, Wilton from Norwalk, and Norwalk from Sparta.  The first two (starting at Elroy) took 1 1/2 to 2 years each to complete.  Both tunnels were dug through 1,680 feet of solid rock.  The third is an incredible 3,810 feet long and took three year (1870-1873) to complete, and cost $1.5 million.  Imagine what a project like this would cost today! The whistles are silent now. But the nostalgia of old railroads and the mystique and power of the men who build the tunnels still hover over the Elroy-Sparta Trail. Today it’s a bike or a snowmobile that makes the run. In 1965 Wisconsin pioneered one of the most successful and unique recreational endeavors ever attempted. Just one year after the last train used the railroad line from Sparta to Elroy, the old Conservation Department purchased the right-of-way for $12,000 and began the development of Wisconsin’s the nations first railroad trail.  From this simple beginning, the Elroy-Sparta State Park Trail has grown into a nationally famous bikeway whose annual visitor attendance averages over 60,000 patrons a year. […] (Click here to read the rest.)

How cool is that? If you go to the site above, one of the things it mentions is how the winters in that part of Wisconsin impacted this Trail. It is really quite an achievement.
The passage above refers to the three tunnels and how they were able to achieve them. Piper provided this information from Trail Links that goes into more detail about them:

Heading east from Sparta you come to the longest and most dramatic of the trail’s three tunnels. The tunnels are fascinating, at times seeming more like caves. Water drips down the walls and pools at your feet. The temperature in the tunnels is a cool 50 to 60 degrees, regardless of the outside temperature.

Tunnel #3 is located 9 miles from Sparta. It is 3,810 feet long—more than 10 football fields—and completely dark. Without proper lights, and a fearless companion, this tunnel is impassable. From either direction there are seasonal kiosks where you can purchase flashlights. Tunnel #3 cost more than $1 million to build and was a 3-year engineering feat, opening in 1873. The tunnel was dug by hand through solid rock. A shaft was dug from the top of the hill into the center of the tunnel, allowing workers to dig from the center out as well as from both ends. It is just more than 3 miles from Tunnel #3 to Norwalk.

The highlight of the 5 miles between Norwalk and Wilton is Tunnel #2. Like the others, Tunnel #2 has gigantic 20-foot-tall wooden doors at its entrances. These doors were opened and shut between traveling trains in the winter, to prevent snow from accumulating inside the tunnels. They are still used for this purpose when snowmobiles use the trail in the winter. When entering the tunnels look for the small doorway-sized indentations in the walls near the doors. This is where the tunnel watchmen were stationed, opening and closing these massive doors up to 50 times each day.

From Wilton, Tunnel #1 is 5.5 miles along the trail. At 1,694 feet long (the exact same length as Tunnel #2), it runs a similar straight-arrow path through the rock, with the pin-prick of light visible at the other end. That tunneling effect is mirrored by the trees along the trail as well, as it continues 3.3 miles to Kendall, home to the trail’s headquarters at the restored Kendall Depot. From here, it’s another 6 miles to the trail’s end in Elroy. […] (Click here to read the rest.)

 I don’t know about you, but I think this sounds like a fascinating, and fantastic trail. What a great opportunity this is to bike a place with such history.
And it is just cool, as these photos (with corresponding notes below each one)  by Piper show:


The start of my biking adventure – Elroy, the birthplace of Wisconsin former governor, Tommy Thompson.

A late start – 4PM on a beautiful sunny day in November. Temp of 71*.
A bit of history on this plaque.
A tree that fell on the trail but I was able to crawl under and continue on my ride.
Tunnel #1 at dusk.
Tunnel #2 at Wilton on Sunday afternoon, another beautiful day – temps in upper 60’s.
Rock formations near Tunnel #3.
Tunnel #3 which was lit by lights provided by the running crew for the marathon racers. They ran one way and I biked in the opposition direction. Several runners inquired about borrowing my bike.
Maps of the trail outside the Sparta station.
Sparta station.
What a trip this must have been, and what a TROOPER Piper is!
And there you have it, friends. A bit of an outdoor respite from what is going on in the country.

Feel free to discuss the above Elroy-Sparta Trail, share our own adventures, or whatever else is on your minds. This is the Weekend Open Thread.


31 Responses to “The Elroy-Sparta Trail *Weekend Open Thread*”

  1. piper Says:

    Thank you for this post about my wonderful bike trip. I dithered for quite a while before throwing my bike and small suitcase in my car for the 175 mile trip up to middle Wisconsin. Something about the warm temperature – unusual for November, reading about the closure of the tunnel in the middle of the month and my odometer showing close to 1000 miles ridden this season motivated me to finish out the season on a bike trail my husband and I had always talked about riding. So in a way this was a tribute to my train buff / modeler sweetheart.

    • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

      Piper, thank you so much for sharing this with us! You are quite the cyclist – most impressive! (Btw, for years, my uncle ran a company called Bike Tour France – he was an avid cyclist, too!)

      And what a wonderful way to honor your husband. I know you would rather have had him side by side with you, but no doubt he was with you in spirit!

      Thanks so much – and my apologies to everyone for whom the photos did not turn up. WordPress has been hinky of late, but I think I have it solved.

    • kenoshamarge Says:

      Thank you so much for sharing you trip with us Piper. For some of us, that can no longer do the things we long to do we live vicariously through what other do. When the other is someone we “know” that makes the experience so much more personal and fun.

      I applaud you determination and your energy. You are a model for us all girl. Proud to know you.

  2. piper Says:

    Life is funny – my flashlight even with new batteries failed when I was approaching tunnel #3 but it turned out the tunnel was well lit by a racing association who were sponsoring a marathon. So I had light one way with darkness coming back later in the day which was all right as I could still see my way through, sort of like being in a haunted house.

    Full Marathon, 1/2 Marathon, 5k, & 1 mile Fun Run
    Sunday, November 6, 2016
    The race is ALWAYS on the first Sunday in November
    In Norwalk WI, the black squirrel capital of the world

    On the scenic Elroy-Sparta State Trail with a 3/4 mile long tunnel
    ** This is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon **

    • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

      Wow, that was certainly serendipitous! And cool that it was a bit like a haunted house coming back, especially considering the season!

      I want to see black squirrels!!! I bet they are beautiful!

      There is a Gypsy Vanner Farm up near you and Marge to which I really want to make a pilgrimage:

      When I get a chance, you, Marge, and I will have to get together!

      Thanks again!

  3. kenoshamarge Says:

    Okay Piper, quit showing off…

  4. kenoshamarge Says:

  5. Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

    And from the, “I told you so,” file comes this piece by Ben Shapiro on Bannon:

  6. Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

    This is an absolutely beautiful story of twins who were just born, but don’t realize they are out of the womb yet. You can read more here:

    And here they are being woken up:

    • kenoshamarge Says:

      The miracle of life. How beautiful.

      So how did we come to be a nation where some “comedienne” jokes that now that Trump has been elected women must rush to get abortions?

      How did abortion become not rare, legal and safe, but frequent, thoughtless and accepting of late term abortion that would destroy life like that in this video?

      When did your “right” to choose include infanticide?

      How did we ever as a decent people get here?

      • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

        Isn’t it justs amazing? Watching these two babies was so moving. It is indeed a miracle.

        I have no idea, Marge. All I can figure is that it has been done bit by bit. While we were distracted with other things, we went from first trimester to sky’s the limit. It is appalling.

  7. kenoshamarge Says:

    • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

      Good Lord. People seriously need to get a grip. This past 8 yrs has told people they can go out and commit violence against their perceived oppressors and get applauded for it. It is beyond disturbing.

      And along those lines, four more police officers shot in the past day, one who has died.

      We have lost our way as a society…

  8. helenk3 Says:

    what an awesome trip.
    Railroad history is really a lot of American history. The building of the tunnels and tracks shows just how great the will and imagination of the people to see what was around the bend in this country was. Just think from trains to planes to space. Somewhere along the line a lot of that has been shut down or lost and with that we all lose.

    • Rabble Rouser Reverend Amy Says:

      I thought you would enjoy piper’s photos and information abt this trail, Helen! Isn’t it wonderful? So thankful that piper was able and willing to share all of this with us!

      And you are right – the building of the railroad took a special kind of spirit, no doubt abt it. Train travel continues to be such a great way to see the country…

      It is amazing to see how far we have come in our ability to travel, though as Amtrak says, “there’s something abt a train that’s magic…”

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