It has been just over a year since that last Veep’s Viewpoint. There has been a change in the LSSA VP (I am now in that position). Veep’s Viewpoint will again attempt to keep you up on what is happening with LSSA, La Follette, and Madison as well as present random suggestions, information, and ideas.
As VP, my inaugural post is going to be about biking, which is pretty much the most fun you can have in Madison in the summer. (Everyone knows that.) This weekend I learned that biking is the most fun you can have outside of Madison as well. I biked about 70 miles Saturday and Sunday on the Elroy-Sparta Trail.
The trail is 32-miles from Elroy, Wisconsin to Sparta, Wisconsin. But if you add in the fact that you have to keep biking to actually get to the towns, (where, say, a place to sleep or your car might be), plus biking around the villages along the route, then it is a bit more. The Elroy-Sparta Trail is the first “From Rails to Trails” project in the United States.
The trail came into existence after a Wilton, WI resident proposed the idea of turning the unused trail lines into a hiking path. No one took him seriously, but he persisted and now the United States has a huge number of amazing biking trails.
There are five towns along the trail (some of which are actually just villages). Obviously, there is Elroy and Sparta, which are the largest of the towns and they are not very big. Sparta has a population of less than 10,000 and dubs itself the “Bicycling Capital of America.” Other than Ben Bikin’ (below), Sparta did not strike me as especially bike friendly, especially when compared to Wilton (which is “The Heart of the Elroy-Sparta Trail”).
Wilton really embraces the trail and is home to a number of cute bed and breakfasts aimed at giving weary cyclists a nice place to stay. The other two towns along the trail are Norwalk and Kendall. Kendall is small and friendly, but a little too close to Elroy for my liking. I departed from Elroy so Kendall came up too quickly on the way out and was too close to my destination on the way back. Norwalk was my favorite of the little towns. There wasn’t much there except for a really cute library and some amazing looking Mexican restaurants. Unfortunately, I biked through too early in the day to eat at them, but I plan to bike the trail again and time it so I can try out the food (I am being entirely serious. Biking + Food is the greatest combination ever). It was interesting to learn that Norwalk was over 30% Hispanic according to the 2000 Census. I haven’t been able to determine what attracted people to that small town and I’d be interested in more information (or theories).
The Elroy-Sparta Trail is known for the three train tunnels along the path. Two are 1/4 mile and one is 3/4 mile. I did not bring adequate lighting and was petrified during my walk through the first tunnel. You can see both ends which was reassuring, but without a good light, it is difficult to navigate. You are required to walk your bike through the tunnels and I would not recommend trying to bike through them. I decided to invest $3.50 in a flashlight at a Wilton gas station and that turned out the be an excellent decision. I felt way more confident walking through the tunnels and actually got to admire the incredible engineering that went into creating the tunnels.
The Elroy-Sparta Trail was not only a fun, easy weekend adventure, but it taught me a lot about Wisconsin history, made me consider the amount of effort that went into the creation of the United States rail lines, and gave me a greater appreciation for Wisconsin’s culture and natural offerings.
Sylvia Fredericks is the LSSA VP.