On May 14th, local trail advocates joined legislators, DNR, and Travel Wisconsin staff to celebrate the reopening of the Elroy-Sparta State Trail. Summer flood damage in 2018 closed the popular 32.5 mile-long trail, which was the first rail-trail in the country when it opened in the late 1960s. Work on the trail, which was funded primarily by FEMA, included – among other things – two complete bridge replacements and four landslide repairs.
Bike Fed Executive Director, Kirsten Finn, and Board Chair Amelia Kegel were on hand for the ribbon cutting and to ride sections of the trail in advance of Ride Across Wisconsin (RAW) which will feature six Wisconsin State Trails in 2022 including the Elroy-Sparta. At the ribbon cutting, officials all emphasized the economic impact of trails like the Elroy Sparta on the local economy. With segments of the trail closed, restaurants, bars, campgrounds, and stores along the Elroy-Sparta saw a steep decline in visitors. Events like Ride Across Wisconsin result in additional tourism revenue for local communities. In 2019, RAW generated a quarter-million dollars in spending in La Crosse alone the night before the event.
The Elroy-Sparta trail, with its scenic view of southwestern Wisconsin and its historic tunnel, lies not far from another, smaller hidden gem with similar characteristics: the Omaha Trail.
The Omaha Trail is one of Bike Fed’s 2022 Priority Projects. Nestled in Juneau County, the 12.5 mile trail passes through iconic sandstone formations before arriving at the trail’s 875-foot-long tunnel. As one of only three trails in Wisconsin to have a tunnel, the Omaha Trail serves as a fun biking destination for anyone looking to get off the beaten path.
The Omaha Trail came onto Bike Fed’s radar the way many of our Priority Projects have: through a dedicated cyclist looking to make a difference on Wisconsin’s trails. We learned that while there’s a lot of interest in using the trail, the Juneau County Parks Department simply doesn’t have the resources to maintain it. Cracks and potholes on the limestone surface have been an ongoing issue, and a recent landslide has resulted in part of the trail being diverted onto the road below and narrowed further in.
Collaborating with the Juneau County Parks Department and more recently the Office of Outdoor Recreation, Bike Fed has been assisting in getting the County prepared to submit for newly available federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding. Up until recently, the biggest difference between the Elroy-Sparta and the Omaha, in regards to trail maintenance and upkeep, was that the Elroy-Sparta had dedicated advocates behind it pushing it towards the finish line. Bike Fed is now pushing to give the same advocacy efforts to the Omaha Trail.
With deadlines for applications coming up later this summer, our hope is to see this trail get the maintenance it needs by utilizing the influx of federal dollars coming into the state for trails.