UNION GROVE — Where freight trains once rumbled through the heart of the village, Larissa Gallagher envisions bicycles pedaling peacefully.
Gallagher, who moved to Union Grove four years ago, is working to turn the old Soo Line railroad tracks through the village into a recreational trail.
“We aren’t that big of a village, but kids here still have to ride their bikes on the street,” she said. “It would be nice to have them be on a protected trail.”
Gallagher is also a member of the village’s Community Development Authority. This spring she will be working with Leadership Union Grove, part of the village’s Chamber of Commerce, to spread the word about the proposal.
For the next four months, Leadership Union Grove will raise awareness of the rails to trail plan and gather support for the proposal.
“These things have a tendency to end up on the back burner,” she said. “We want to keep it up front.”
The concept started in December 2013, when the village was told that the Soo Line would abandon its track between Sturtevant and Kansasville.
The railroad has started to remove the rails, said Village President Mike Aimone. So far, the tracks from Vandenboom Road near Burlington to inside the Union Grove village limits have been pulled up, he said.
All the tracks should be removed by the end of June, Aimone said.
“This is something that would definitely add a great deal to the village,” Aimone said. “This trail would serve as a link to two other trails, it would connect all of our parks in the village, and it would promote health and fitness here.”
The trail also could help downtown businesses by attracting more visitors and customers, Aimone said.
A Union Grove trail would connect the Racine-Sturtevant Trail to the east and the White River State Trail near Burlington to the west, giving bicyclists a smooth and protected trail from Lake Michigan to Elkhorn.
The Racine-Sturtevant trail runs for 3.5 miles from the western side of Racine to near the eastern edge of Sturtevant. The White River State Trail is a 19-mile stretch from Elkhorn to Vandenboom Road in Dover.
Pulling up the abandoned rails is the first step in the process. The village is working with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) organization to develop the land into trails.
RTC helps transform former rail line into recreational trails. The nonprofit group has helped create 30,000 miles of rail-trails and multi-use trails across the nation. In Wisconsin, RTC has helped develop 90 rail trails covering 1,805 miles.