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Elroy-Sparta Trail reopens after extensive 2018 flood damage

Published: May. 20, 2022 at 4:59 PM CDT
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SPARTA, Wis. (WEAU) - Following massive flood damage in 2018, one of the most popular trails in Wisconsin has finally reopened.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates as many as 60,000 people use the Elroy-Sparta State Trail each year.

That number has taken a significant hit over the last few years after historic floodwaters swept through Monroe and Juneau counties four years ago.

“The trail is 32.5 miles, and almost all of that length of trail was damaged in some fashion,” said Andrew Haffele, trail supervisor with the DNR.

As Haffele describes, multiple bridges needed to be replaced, culverts received heavy damage, and portions of the trail were completely washed away.

The damage kept the majority of the trail closed, which turned some visitors away from Sparta.

“It hurt when people called and asked if the trail was open and we had to tell them no, and they changed their plans to go somewhere else,” Sparta Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Heidi Prestwood recalled.

After years of planning, securing funding, and conducting repairs, the trail has been cleared for recreational use.

Haffele is relieved the bulk of the work has been completed, and is proud that a piece of U.S. history is once again available for visitors to experience.

“The Elroy-Sparta Trail is considered the first rails to trails conversion in the entire country,” Haffele said. “That program has just blown up and expanded across the United States, so there are hundreds, if not thousands, of former rail lines that have become recreational trails in some capacity.”

Prestwood is excited to have the trail back because of the tourism boost it provides for each of the communities it runs through.

“There are quite a few races that are held on this trail, so of course those different types of races bring in people from all over the United States,” Prestwood said. “They always need a place to stay, they always need something to eat, so no matter where they are running on the trail, there’s someplace for them to go, which is going to bring those tourism dollars to our local communities.”

With the trail being fully opened for the first time in four years, Prestwood hopes it will contribute to a successful summer season in Sparta.

“I want to see people shopping downtown, I want to see people on the trail, I want to see people in our establishments and having a good time,” Prestwood expressed. “That’s ultimately what I want, I want to reclaim our status as the bicycling capital of America.”

The $2.3 million needed for repairs came from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and the State of Wisconsin.

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