About the Ride
At 11 miles this section from Norwalk to Sparta is the longest stretch between towns on the Elroy Sparta Trail. On your way west out of the Village of Norwalk, the trail crosses two small creeks that serve as part of the Tri-Creek Watershed Project Reservoir, which was built to prevent flodding in the area. The trail also crosses Summit Rd (County Road T). Along this section of the trail visitors enjoy a mix of woods, pastures, and large rock outcroppings. Approximately 2.75 miles west of Norwalk and .25 miles east of Tunnel #3 you will find the Summit Rest Area. Plan to spend some time exploring this fascinating area. on the south side of the trail sits one of the original watchman's shacks which was moved to this location and restored. Tunnel watchmen were located at the entrances to each of the tunnels, and their job included opening and closing the massive wood and steel doors to the tunnels during the winter months. Insdie this small building you will find photographs depicting the life of the railroad workers during the heydey of the railroad. Near the watchmen's shack an old fasions water pump provides very cold well water with a slight iron tasts that can't be beat. You will also find nearby picnic tables, sitting benches and a pit washroom.
Across the trail and a few steps west sits a stone flume that stretches from the top of the hill that the tunnel passes through to the valley to the east. It was build to divert water that might have eroded the rail bed and collapse the banks of the valley leading to the tunnel. The stone flume is unfortunately missed by many who don't pay attention to their surrounding as they bicycle the trail. It is well worth your time to stand on the bridge that crosses the stone flume and look west for the best view of this massive structure.
Tunnel #3 is often the favorite of many visitors, probably because it's the largest (3,810 feet). Additionally, when in the middle of this tunnel it is possible, depending on the wather conditions, to not see either end. Total darkness. This happens when the outdoor weather is humid causing the tunnel entrances to become covered with fog. Construction of this tunnel took place by digging and boring from both ends at the same time as well as boring from the top of the hill downward to help remove material. One thousand feet in from the east end of the tunnel, a vertical hole was made from the top of the hill to the tunnel; sixteen hundred feet from the west end of the tunnel, another verticla hole was made from the top of the hill to the tunnel. These holes were used to lift up material and remove it from the tunnel, and these vertical holes were filled in when the construction of the tunnel was completed. Inside the tunnel there is a constant stream of water from a natural spring located approximately at the midpoint, and the water from this spring finds it ways through these drilled holes. Make sure you have on clothes that you don't mind getting wet. No matter when you visit, very cold water will rain on you througout this tunnel, and in some isolated spots a virtual deluge of icy water may pour over your head. Just plan to get wet. At four locations inside this tunnel you will see recent construction to strenghten the tunnel walls and ceiling. Expect most anything in this tunnel.
Because of the length, the darkness, the water falling on your head, and the echo of the water running along both sides of the trail, many poeple become disoriented and often cross the centerline into the path of the people walking the opposite direction. Always bring a light into all tunnels.
Just west of Tunnel #3 on the south side of the trail you will find the only private rest area along the trail effectionately known as "Tunnel Tom". This rest area provides a soft drink machine a couple of picnic tables and other nessecities. It also includes parking for a small donation and is only yards from the tunnel if interested in seeing the greatness of the tunnel without riding on it.
While bicycling along this section, notice that the ground surrounding the old rail bed drops off significantly leaving the trail sitting much higher than the surrounding farmland. This is an areas where the rail bed was built upon a three-mile long wooden trestle. When the trestle became old and unsafe, dirt was packed underneath the rail bed and around the wooden structure, leanding strength and support to the oldest trestle. Unfourtunately there is no trailside markers describing this interesting bit of history. Most people bike ride over this sections and do not realize what once was here.
-Excerpt from "Elroy Sparta Trail Guidebook" by Bob Sobie is avaliable for purchase at the trailheads.