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