Fifty years have passed since abandoned railroad tracks were converted into the 32.5-mile Elroy-Sparta State Trail, the first U.S. rail-to-trail project, and now at least 1,900 of these recreational paths crisscross the nation.
A new guidebook, “Rail-Trail Hall of Fame: a Selection of America’s Premier Rail-Trails” (Wilderness Press, $17), recognizes Elroy-Sparta and 28 other trails as pioneering efforts that inspired similar projects in other places. The nonprofit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy made the selections, based on trail significance and diversity.
Expect descriptions, directions, maps and railroad history in the new book. “Iconic tunnels, links to the state’s network of rail-trails and classic Wisconsin scenery make this a well-loved and memorable adventure,” the conservancy concludes, regarding Elroy-Sparta, an unusual route because of three old tunnels that cut through rock.
The crushed limestone trail was added to the hall of fame in 2008, and no other Wisconsin trail makes the cut, so far. traillink.com
From the Elroy-Sparta, whose terrain is relatively flat, bicyclists gain easy access to the La Crosse River State Trail (21 miles), 400 State Trail (22 miles) and Omaha Trail (14 miles). elroy-sparta-trail.com
As autumn nears, temps typically cool, and that means ideal weather for bicycling. Take a spin on your own or check out organized events, which include these 10 in September. Note the range of themes, something for beer lovers and foodies to hard-core competitors and autumn leaf peepers.
La Crosse Area Labor Day Weekend Bicycle Festival, Sept. 2-5: Social to challenging rides of 30 to 100 miles change daily and explore the Driftless Region (Coon Valley, Grandad Bluff, Mississippi River shoreline). Most rides begin at Cameron Park, and participation is free. The party starts Sept. 1 with free music by the Moon Tunes in Riverside Park. explorelacrosse.com/bikefest, 608-782-2220
Flambeau 40 On-Road Bike Race, Sept. 3-4: The 35-mile, hilly road race begins in Park Falls and follows the Flambeau River on Sept. 3. Time trials happen on a mostly flat course, 12 miles out and back, on Sept. 4. Registration includes lunch. Cost: $35 per event, or $60 for both. parkfalls.com/flambeau-40, 715-762-2703
Milwaukee Historic Brewery Bike Tour, Sept. 10 and Oct. 8: Hop Head Beer Tours leads bicyclists to an all-star list of brewing sites, with stops along the way. The 12 miles in 3.5 hours includes hills, biking on city streets and cycling paths. The ride begins below Brewer’s Hill and zigs through downtown Milwaukee, stopping for lunch and beer sample at Milwaukee Ale House before peddling along the Lake Michigan shore and Brady Street, ending at Lakefront Brewery for a tour. Cost: $50, or $76 includes bike rental. hopheadtours.com/milwaukee-bike-tours, 608-467-5707
Braise: Annual Tour de Farms, Sept. 11: The annual fundraiser for Restaurant Supported Agriculture is a 25-mile bike ride through the Random Lake area and includes stops at farms for food, drink, tours and lessons about rural life. The day ends with dinner, drinks, music and prizes at Braise restaurant in Milwaukee. Cost: $115 (only wait list spots remain). braiselocalfood.com/tour-de-farms
Peninsula Century Fall Challenge Bike Ride, Sept. 17: All routes (25, 50, 62 and 100 miles) start and end at Waterfront Park in Sister Bay. After biking rural roads as far as the peninsula’s tip, riders relax with a buffet, beer and music. This is Door County’s newest century ride. Cost: $50 to $60. peninsulacenturyfallchallenge.com, 920-421-1518
Tyranena Oktoberfest Bike Ride, Sept. 17: A max of 1,750 registered riders traverse rural Jefferson County roads for 25, 46 or 66 miles to raise money for Tomorrow’s Hope,which funds health-related research and support. Registration includes dinner and two drinks at Tyranena Brewery, Lake Mills, plus brewery tours and music from 1-10 p.m. Cost: $55. oktoberfestbikeride.com, 920-648-8699
Bike the Barns, Sept. 18: Start in Verona’s Badger Prairie Park for a 27- or 53-mile ride with stops at up to four farms for tours, treats, lunch and music. Terrain is hilly (an elevation gain of 1,200 feet for one route and 3,000 feet for the other). FairShare, a network of community supported agriculture participants, uses proceeds help low-income families buy locally grown food. csacoalition.org (click “events”), 608-226-0300
Bike the Barn Quilts Ride, Sept. 24: Countryside rides head past 8×8-foot quilt squares that brighten sides of barns in this family-friendly event that has seven routes of five to 70 miles. Bike in a guided tour, family fun group or independently from Memorial Park. Registrants get continental breakfast and lunch. Cost: $25 to $65 (for family of four). shawanopathways.org/bike-the-barn-quilts-ride, 715-304-9796
Colorama Bike Tour, Sept. 24: Routes of 10, 30 and 50 miles follow the Wisconsin River, starting at Kitchenette Park, Merrill. Registration includes lunch afterward. Cost: $25 to $27. merrillparkandrec.com (click “events”), 715-536-7313
Fall Color Festival Muni Race, Sept. 24: Competitive mountain biking (one event for unicycles) on rugged John Muir Bike Trails is the main event, raising money for trail maintenance in the Kettle Moraine State Forest’s southern unit. Cost: $20 to $25 (add state park and trail pass fees). Races are part of the Fall Color Festival, which also includes mountain biking workshops, activities for children, food and a beer garden at the trails, N9097 County H, Whitewater. fallcolorfestival.org, 262-495-8600 (LaGrange General Store)