Section 508 Navigation
American Trails header Skip Navigation
HomeAbout usTrailsWhat's hotCalendarTrainingResources & libraryPartnersJoin usStore

trail maintenance and management

Hosted by

BADGER STATE TRAIL MASTER PLAN And Environmental Assessment

The plan includes Management, Development and Use, Alternatives and Their Environmental Impacts, Summary of Public Involvement and other analysis of trail development for the abandoned railroad corridor; download the 60-page document (pdf 392 kb).

From Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Map of Wisconsin

Introduction and Executive Summary

This plan outlines the development of a 40-mile State Trail on the former Illinois Central Gulf Railroad corridor between Madison and the Illinois state line. The Natural Resources Board (NRB) authorized acquisition of this corridor in April 2000. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has signed a lease with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) and the South Central Wisconsin Rail Transit Commission allowing the development and operation of a recreational trail. The DOT still owns fee title to the corridor. The name of this abandoned rail corridor is the Badger State Trail.

The Badger State Trail is in the unique position of being able to provide outdoor experiences, environmental and cultural education, and recreation to a large portion of southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. This one trail, running 200 miles through various topography and vegetation, will connect users to five other State Trails. Trail users will also be able to easily visit four State Parks, all of which provide numerous recreational activities. Three wildlife/natural areas near the trail will provide a unique opportunity for wildlife viewing. For a more cultural and historical experience, trail users will be able to visit more than thirteen different communities in southern Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, all of which offer their own unique history and cultural activites.

The DNR will manage and operate this trail which is expected to attract 100,000 to 175,000 users annually. Trail uses include biking, hiking, rollerblading, equestrian use, winter ATVing and snowmobiling. The trail will also provide space for activities such as berry picking, bird watching, and general nature study.

Development of the year-round multi-purpose state trail is estimated to cost $4.7 million. This price includes tunnel reconstruction and repairs, bridge decking and railing, trail surfacing, trail heads, parking areas, fencing and signing. To date, over $600,000 has been spent on bridge decking and railing, regulatory signing, and brushing of the trail corridor.

There has been strong support for development of the trail from recreational user groups and most local units of government have been supportive of converting the former rail corridor to a recreational trail.


Objective: Provide a cleared recreation corridor while reducing the spread of invasive, noxious and exotic species, providing shade and maintaining vistas of the distant landscape.

Vegetative management of the Badger Trail will use various methods including cutting, mowing, and limited use of herbicides. Limited prescribed burns will be concentrated in the areas south of Monticello and north of Belleville. In some of these areas there are state-threatened pale purple coneflowers, roundstem foxglove, and kitten tails along with several other more common prairie species found within the right-of-way. While it is not the goal to create new or enhanced prairie areas, attempts will be made where possible to establish prairie demonstration areas. Vegetation has encroached on the trail corridor throughout the Badger State Trail. Much of this vegetation is invader species— cherry, aspen, and boxelder with an understory of sumac, willow, and berry bushes. Many areas also have invasive/exotic species such as garlic mustard, honeysuckle, etc.

Trail management strategy will request, as a part of the biennial budget process, money for habitat management that will support inventory work, invasive species management, natural community restorations, prescribed burning, seeding, and erosion control. When possible, noxious weed control will also be undertaken. More of this work could be accomplished by creating partnerships with local support groups and the formation of a Friends Group to establish a base of volunteers.


A variety of wildlife management techniques will be used throughout the trail corridor as personnel, funding, volunteers, and contributions allow. For instance, artificial nesting boxes will be erected and maintained within the trail corridor near wetlands, streams, and rivers for use by wood ducks, hooded mergansers, screech owls, and other birds. Bluebird houses will also be erected along more open areas such as in the stretches of grassland.


The establishment of a 40 mile long recreation trail will increase hiking, biking, rollerblading and wildlife observation opportunities in Dane and Green Counties. The establishment of non-road paved bicycle trail in the region will represent a significant addition to the supply of trails in the region. This Master Plan’s regional analysis indicates a high demand for pedestrian based activities within the region. The routing of snowmobiles along the corridor will decrease the risk associated with trails running along roadways.


By providing a trail that allows for increased exercise and aerobic activities, the Badger State Trail will benefit both individual users and the south central Wisconsin region as a whole. Increased outdoor exercise has been shown to reduce individual weight, increase overall endurance and allow for better cognitive skills. Improved physical fitness also reduces the incidence of many diseases such as congestive heart disease, cancer, and diabetes and extends overall life expectancy.


Construction noise resulting from capital improvements such as trail building, vegetation management, shelter construction, and other development activities could have a moderate, temporary impact on the trail’s neighbors and wildlife. All of these groups could be sensitive to this disruption, especially during warm weather when windows may be open. This noise will be peak (high level, short duration) during construction periods, rather than continuous. The presence and activities of trail visitors may present a potential for reaction from neighbors or other trail visitors and thus may have some impact. Seasonal noise generated by snowmobiles and ATVs may have a negative impact on neighboring properties. However, these uses will only take place during the winter when neighboring properties will have windows and doors closed, thereby reducing the noise impacts to residents along the trail corridor. Snowmobiles are currently allowed within the corridor and no complaints have been filed by existing land owners regarding their use.


and composition of the area’s existing forest stands. Vegetative management within the trail corridor will include removal of trees for construction, supplemental planting of new vegetation for landscape purposes, and the removal of hazardous trees when the need arises. The effect of this management will be a gradual reduction in understory density and a more open appearance in designated use areas. In the short term, little, if any, change in vegetation will be noticeable. Some of the natural processes occurring within managed areas may be considered “unsightly,” though these will be mostly in the more remote and inaccessible parts of the corridor. Effects of this management will, at times, be visible from the trail.

In most cases, the vegetative management of the trail will be passive. Dead and downed trees that have fallen through natural causes will be removed from the trail grade, but left in the general vicinity of the trail for insect and mammal habitat. Trees will not be actively removed unless they are determined to be a hazard. The anticipated effect of this management will be a slow succession to climax species and old growth conditions over a period of several hundred years.

In the longer term, downed and dead trees in various stages of decomposition will be visible along the trail corridor. The forest canopy will take on a denser character, and gaps in the canopy from fallen trees will eventually be filled by the growth of other trees. The forest will also become more diverse as older and younger trees grow into the same community. While the passive or natural succession method of vegetative management will not necessarily have the direct effect of exacerbating forest pest outbreaks such as gypsy moth, oak wilt, or forest tent caterpillar, the overall impact of these pests may be greater due to the relatively weaker health of individual trees now present in the community. Under passive management, reactive measures such as sanitation, root pruning, or pesticide/herbicide application could still be used were an acute infestation to develop.

Exotic Plants

A program of regular monitoring and inspection for invasive exotic species will also be implemented. This program will be started during the construction phase with both aquatic and terrestrial species included. Some common invasive exotics that will be monitored are purple loosestrife, garlic mustard, spotted knapweed, tatarian honeysuckle, buckthorn, black locust, and wild parsnip. Department policies that address these invasive threats to the trail area’s resource base will be followed. Control measures appropriate to the species of invasive will be used. These measures may include manual harvesting, plowing, use of herbicides or poisonous agents, fire, and natural predators. The effect of this management will be a purifying of the biotic community and protection from future invasions. It is possible that equestrian use may cause the spread of invasives along a small portion of the trail corridor. Efforts will be taken to work with equestrian groups on control of invasives through education and manual removal done through trail work days.


At this time, no state or federally listed endangered species are recorded as occurring within the Badger State Trail area. The great egret is listed as a species of special concern, and the trail will continue to provide habitat for this species. Federal and state endangered, threatened, or specialconcern species that may be discovered on Badger State Trail land or may occur on this land in the future will receive long-term protection and enhancement according to the property’s management plan.


The 1/4 mile long tunnel located in Exeter Township is a historic structure, although it is not yet on the National Register of Historic Places. Inspections of the tunnel found significant deterioration of the tunnel lining from freezing and thawing during winter months. The Department and the State Historical Society have determined that a historic restoration of the interior with a brick lining would be impractical and unsustainable. The interior of the tunnel will therefore be relined with stamped concrete to give the appearance of a brick lining. This relining will not preclude the tunnel from being on the National Register of Historic Places. The entrance of the tunnel will remain historic in appearance and will be closed during winter months to avoid further deterioration. Available records show that no other archaeological sites have been documented within the trail corridor. This does not preclude the possibility of future discoveries, however.

Download the 60-page document (pdf 392 kb)

Related topics:

More resources:

NTTP logo

page footer

Contact us | Mission statement | Board of directors | Member organizations | Site map | Copyright | NRT | NTTP