Trail of the Month: December 2006
Wisconsin's Military Ridge State Park Trail
Near Madison, Wis., the Military Ridge State Park Trail runs along the southern borders of the Governor Dodge and Blue Mound State Parks. Most of the 45-mile trail follows the old Chicago and Northwestern (CNW) corridor.
Jointly with the Union Pacific Railroad, the CNW operated passenger trains through the Midwest until poor track conditions forced Union Pacific to switch to the Milwaukee Road for service to Chicago. CNW was also the first system to operate a high-speed train, originally called the Chicago-Twin Cities 400 because it could travel 400 miles in 400 minutes.
The Military Ridge itself has a rich history of American soldiers, French explorers, and bison that used the pathway during the Blackhawk War when the leader of the Sauk and Fox Indians fought the U.S. Army and militia for possession of lands in Michigan Territory (present-day Wisconsin) in 1832. For many years afterward the path along Military Ridge remained a preferred overland route and was ideal for the railroad because it is naturally level and free of obstacles. After CNW stopped using the Military Ridge portion of track, the State of Wisconsin opened the trail to hikers and bicyclists in 1985.
Overall, the trail boasts a gentle grade, only 25 percent. It flows uninterrupted from Dodgeville to Fitchburg through scenic farmland, woods and wetlands. In between, it meanders west to east through the communities of Ridgeway, Barneveld, Blue Mounts, Mount Horeb, Riley, Klevenville, and Verona.
Between Dodgeville and Mount Horeb, riders travel atop the actual Military Ridge which divides the Wisconsin River watershed to the north and the Pecatonica and Rock River watersheds to the south. Either way, riders enjoy panoramic views of the countryside. The second half of the trail, between Mount Horeb and Fitchburg, descends into the deliciously named Sugar River Valley.
After Fitchburg, the Military Ridge State Park Trail connects with the three-mile Capital City State Trail and continues on to Madison. Most of the trail is surfaced in limestone and open to bicycles, wheelchairs, and hikers during the spring, summer and fall. The three-mile section between Verona and Madison is blacktopped and usable by inline-skaters.
For a break in the trip just east of Dodgeville, Ridgeway features the historical Ridgeway Depot, the only remaining depot from the active era of the Chicago and Northwestern line. It has three rooms: an office, a freight room and a passenger waiting room. The Friends of the Military Ridge State Park Trail proudly completed restoration of the depot in summer 2006, complete with a new roof and a raised foundation.
The trail features 48 bridges, all with plank decking and railings. It wanders beneath naturally shaded arbors, and there are also several observation platforms for viewing wildlife and wetlands. Other natural assets include wild raspberry and blackcap bushes, wild strawberries, wildflowers, geese, beavers and ducks.
During the winter, Military Ridge State Park Trail is open to cross-country skiers and snowmobiles. Additionally, Governor Dodge State Park is accessible from the trail and outfitted for all sorts of winter recreation, including ice fishing, ice skating, sledding, skiing and snowmobiling. The park is also prepared for winter campers.
Campgrounds are at Governor Dodge as well as Blue Mount State Park, and they do take advanced reservations. Restaurants, taverns and lodging are available at regular intervals along the Military Ridge State Trail.
Thanks to Katie Bruhn, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy intern, for contributing November's Trail of the Month.
The Challenger ran on the original Chicago and North Western Railway.
Flowers alongside the trail.
Military Ridge State Park Trail, Dane County, Wisconsin.