Cellphone shot of a 1915 station in Sparta, on the Chicago Northwestern.
Originally, this line was called the Baraboo Air-Line Railroad. (Isn’t that kind of great!?)
The trains don’t go there anymore.
Although there’s active stations not too far away (eighteen miles east in Tomah, and 28 miles west in La Crosse), because Amtrak runs more-or-less northwest across the state, on its way to St. Paul.
This little brick building is now the office for the 32-mile Elroy-Sparta biking trail, which the official guide tells us, is “considered the first rail-to-trail in the United States.”
It’s about 120 miles northwest of Madison, and if you continue NW from Sparta, on the La Crosse River Trail, you’ll hit the Mississippi.
The sections I walked were pleasant, if unexciting, but the big attraction is the tunnels.
In the 1870’s, RR workers dug & blasted their way through the hills. We walked through the longest tunnel, nearly 3/4 of a mile long.
At the foot of the hill, there’s what looks like an ancient stone-lined canal.
It was actually just an attempt to divert storm water away from the tunnel and railbed.
At some point, the burrow is reinforced with massive stone blocks, and water cascades down the wall – – I think the spot where the workers hit an underground spring. This picture was taken with a flash, there’s no lighting in the tunnel.
If you don’t mind getting a bit wet, and perhaps hearing a bat or two overhead, it’s a wonderfully cool place for a walk on a hot summer day.
And a great place to sing, if there’s no one around.
I recommend selections from Bohemian Rhapsody, or Phantom of the Opera.