How brave are you? This old train tunnel in Southern Wisconsin is open to hikers and bikers

The state of Wisconsin may be best known for beer and cheese and Green County may be the epicenter of with New Glarus Brewing Company, countless dairies and cheese shops. But right in the middle of it all is a destination for those who crave some adventure!

Illinois Central locomotive exiting the south tunnel in 1981

Photo: Richard Kundert

The Stewart Tunnel was built by the Illinois Central Railroad Company in the 1880s and made an essential link to transport goods and people between Madison, Wisconsin and Freeport, Illinois. The railroad was used for nine decades until adequate roads made trucks and cars easier to maneuver the rolling hills. The railroad was abandoned in the early 1980s with rails ripped out soon after.

It didn't take long for the railroad right-of-way to quickly become overrun by weeds and trees. But in the past few years, the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources developed the trail as a destination for bikers and hikers looking for adventure.

The entire Badger State Trail stretches 40 miles between the Illinois state line and Madison. The highlight is the 1,200 foot Stewart Tunnel, about half way between the endpoints. It's not only historical, but rather unique because it was built on a curve! Folklore tells the tale of the workers boring from each end, meeting almost exactly in the middle, only a foot off of center.

The curve means it gets progressively darker the farther you get into it. It's definitely not for those afraid of the dark since there are no electric lights in the tunnel. Hikers and bikers must bring lights or it is next to impossible to walk without running into the rocky side. Bikers should not ride through the tunnel expecting it to be easy without letting your eyes adjust to the dark. The DNR recommends all people walk, including bicyclists. Hikers may find the tunnel chilly (as it stays in the 50s year round).

A state trail pass is required to hike or bike on the Badger State Trail. Passes can be purchased daily for $5 or for the year at $25.

-Meteorologist Eric Sorensen

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