Cliff Walk: Newport, Rhode Island
The 3.5-mile "National Recreation Trail" spans the southeastern shore of Aquidneck Island, providing spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. The paved public access walkway connects visitors with beautiful vistas, tunnels, and long winding pathways. The rock formations along the coastline create one of the most unique natural environments in the Northeast and attract upwards of 1 million visitors annually. In addition to its seaside location, the Cliff Walk runs through the backyards of impressive residential Victorian architecture of the Gilded Age.
Borders the Atlantic Ocean, beginning on Memorial Boulevard and ending at Bellevue Avenue.
The Cliff Walk was established as part of the Rhode Island Constitution in 1843. Development of the southern end of the island increased the value of the Cliff Walk as people sought immediate access to the coastline. As the trail's popularity grew, 20th century estate owners along the cliffs began to insulate themselves by building fences and brick walls, and raising the grounds of their estates for increased privacy from passersby. This ultimately led to the architectural remnants of assorted styles, materials, and treatments that can be found on the walk and underlying cliffs today.
Although hurricanes have threatened its existence repeatedly throughout the years, the Cliff Walk continues to be the most popular tourist attraction in Rhode Island.
Defining Characteristics, Features
- The Cliff Walk may have originated as a Native American trail that was partially improved by settlers before and during the Colonial era
- The Cliff Walk took its present shape as a result of the city's 19th century development as a resort (mid- to late 19th century)
- Estate owners began investing in the Cliff Walk piece by piece, creating connections between private systems of drives and walks on the various estates and public property (late 19th century)
- Hurricanes in 1938 and 1954 destroyed a number of areas along the Cliff Walk
- Designated as a "National Recreation Trail," the 65th in the nation and first in New England, by the Secretary of the Interior pursuant to the 1968 National Trail System Act (1975)
- The Cliff Walk Commission was formed by city, state, and federal representatives, property owners, and citizens to protect, manage, and maintain the trail (1991)
- Hurricane Bob caused damage to 46 different sites along the trail (1991), and Hurricane Sandy washed away and damaged a majority of the trail (2012)
- In addition to the rich natural landscape, amenities include paved walkways, benches, fences, and built protective areas to safeguard against erosion
- The rock formations along the trail create breathtaking drops of over 70 feet in certain areas along the coastline, protected by retaining walls
- At Marine Avenue a small natural beach, Belmont, is often used by surfers
- The trail passes through a National Historic District with views of Newport's famous residential architecture from the Gilded Age and through the campus of Salve Regina University
- Brass plaques along the trail designate rights-of-way for pedestrians
- Restoration efforts were funded with federal, state, and city money, spearheaded by the Cliff Walk Commission, resulting in the relocation and reconstruction of four sections adding up to 17 percent of the trail (1976)
- Renovations between Webster and Narragansett Avenues cost $800,000 (1985)
- An additional $3.4 million was spent on new retaining walls to protect against erosion along the northern cliffs and to repair damage from Hurricane Bob (1994)
- Most recent completed renovations include the area south of Ruggles Avenue and extend to Baily's Beach (2004)
- After Hurricane Sandy (2012) a majority of the Cliff Walk was closed for repairs costing approximately $5.5 million; reopened to the public in 2014