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Study in works to keep Cheese Country Trail
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MONROE - The Tri-County Rails to Trails Committee is still looking for ways the Cheese Country Trail can co-exist with a Wisconsin & Southern Railroad line.

Committee member and Green County Board Supervisor Jerry Guth told the Monroe Visitor and Promotion Board Monday the committee might hire Fehr-Graham and Associates of Monroe to study the issue.

The cost of the study would be between $3,000 and $8,000 Guth said.

The committee will meet Dec. 17 at the Lafayette County Courthouse in Darlington. Once the committee knows how much money the study will cost, it can make a decision as to whether it should authorize Fehr-Graham to do the study.

The Visitor and Promotion Board will consider if it wants to help with the cost of a study at its Jan. 6 meeting.

Guth told the board he's met with representatives of Wisconsin & Southern to try to find ways for the Cheese Country Trail to continue if the railroad decides it wants to convert more than four miles of the trail back to a rail line next year.

The railroad plans to file an application with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) in February to request financial assistance with the conversion. The application will be considered by July 1, Guth told the board.

The reason the railroad wants to convert the trail back to a rail line is because a business has approached Wisconsin & Southern President William Gardener about building in the area and would need a rail corridor for its products.

Guth said the trail committee and trail users don't want to stand in the way of economic progress for the area but wants to know if it would be possible to keep the trail head in Monroe. Guth said the trail is important to Monroe.

"No one has a problem putting the trail back to rail if there is a legitimate customer," Guth said, to the board.

Monroe Mayor Ron Marsh, who is chairman of the Visitor and Promotion Board, said he thinks the loss of the trail head in Monroe would hurt Monroe's economy.

"We would lose a valuable revenue source," Marsh said.

Guth said there has been some discussion about all-terrain vehicles using roads to by-pass the four miles of the trail. However, people under the age of 16, who are able to drive on the Cheese Country Trail, wouldn't be able to drive on the road. Children under the age of 12, who can ride ATVs on the trail with proper training and permits, wouldn't be able to drive on the road, either, he said.

Guth said the trail attracts families and a change in the trail's beginning point could reduce the number of people who use the trail.

In July the Pecatonica Rail Transit Commission voted to allow the railroad to take back 4.5 miles of the trail from Badger State Ethanol to Ullom Road.

When the railroad gave up the line from Monroe to Mineral Point, which became the Cheese Country Trail, in the late 1980s, it was with the understanding it would get the trail back if it ever expanded rail service. In 2000, the railroad and the Pecatonica Rail Transit Commission (PRTC) signed a contract to that effect.

A portion of the contract states the railroad has to give the Tri-County Trails Commission, which oversees the Cheese Country Trail, six months notification of its plan to take back part of the trail.

At the October PRTC meeting, Gardener said he wanted to work with people to preserve the trail and make it possible for railroad and trail supporters to use the trail.

Until the DOT makes its decision about helping the railroad fund the conversion, ATV riders and snowmobile riders can continue to use the trail.