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Cliff Walk to get facelift


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Rough spots on Cliff Walk to get $3.5-million facelift


Journal Staff Writer | August 20, 2004

NEWPORT -- The southern half of the city's famed Cliff Walk is a rugged trek worthy of the Appalachian Trail.

A far cry from the easy strolling on the flat, sidewalk-wide path that makes up the northern end of the Cliff Walk, the jagged uneven rocks and steep, unguarded slopes are for the sure-footed and not the faint-hearted.

Depending on ability, the tunnel through the cliffs where the Walk makes a sharp right turn at Gull Rock is either a gateway to adventure or the beginning of a formidable test of endurance.

Behind Rough Point, the lavish estate of the late Doris Duke, the Walk becomes less of a scenic stroll and more like a game of extreme hopscotch, where the hiker needs to use hands and feet to forge a path. The going gets rough at this point, where a moment between steps is needed to choose among a jumble of loose, sharp rocks and flat, steady ones to find the way through.

Then the path seems to disappear at Ledge Road, where it takes a keen eye to find the Cliff Walk where it becomes more of a Cliff climb.

And on the final stretch of the Walk approaching Bailey's Beach, an unknowing hiker can only hope that the tangle of branches that reach at the face and graze the arms are bearing leaves more benign than poison ivy.

"We recognize that the Cliff Walk is three different animals," said Christos Xenophontos, contract administrator with the state Department of Transportation. "From the northern entrance to Ruggles Avenue, it's very easy. There's a walkway surface and a lot of areas are handicapped accessible. The middle is also easy."

"The third part is really just a nature trail," said Xenophontos, referring to where the Walk snakes past Gull Rock and winds south around Rough Point.

The DOT says it will still be rugged but work will begin soon to tame the most daunting stretch of the Cliff Walk at 27 locations along the 1 1/2-mile stretch of the Walk from Ruggles Avenue near The Breakers mansion to Bellevue Avenue near Bailey's Beach.

The state Coastal Resources Management Council recently allowed the DOT to proceed with the $3.5-million project to repair decades of storm damage to slopes and walls, landscape the Walk, and make the path easier to discern in places.

The work is scheduled to get under way next year, from March through December. Parts of the Cliff Walk will be closed through the year.

A team of biologists, engineers, and geologists from the Coastal Resources Management Council reviewed the proposed improvements at each of the sites.

"We looked at the design for consistency with accepted design practices and coastal regulations," said Kenneth W. Anderson, an engineer who was part of the team that reviewed the Cliff Walk improvement application.

Decades of hurricanes battering the Walk, coupled erosion, are to blame.

The majority of the planned improvements is maintenance, including filling in gaping holes in stone masonry walls, clearing overgrown vegetation, and covering dirt roads with stone dust.

At other sites, the construction will make the more daunting sections of the Cliff Walk easier to navigate. At the southernmost point, near Land's End, where the path turns into piles of jagged boulders, the plan calls for bronze metal disks fitted into the ledge to help walkers discern the safest route and direct them away from trespassing on private property.

Near Sheep Point, at a site where the path widens, the placement of granite benches is planned to give walkers a place to rest.

Five of the locations will require major changes. At these sites, including the Chinese Tea House, the concrete seawall is almost completely eroded and will require the installation of heavy armor stones, which can weigh up to three or four tons each.

The Newport Restoration Foundation, responsible for the preservation of the Rough Point estate of Doris Duke, has pledged up to $50,000 to replace the timber bridge, where the Cliff Walk passes by the estate. Pieter Roos, the foundation's executive director, said the finished product will be something "in the spirit of the original" stone bridge.

A complete restoration of the 3 1/2-mile Cliff Walk was originally planned in 1994, when 38 locations south of Ruggles Avenue were identified by the department and approved by the coastal council. But the council's permit expired and the work was postponed because the DOT lacked the funding.

Instead, the improvements were divided into two phases, with phase one -- restoration of a 1 1/2-mile stretch of the Cliff Walk between Memorial Boulevard and Narragansett Avenue -- completed in 1994.

In 2002, the federal Department of Transportation contributed $3 million to restore the southern half. The City of Newport has pledged an additional $500,000.

Eleven of the original 38 improvements to the southern half have since been deemed too costly. Repairs given priority were those deemed essential to the keeping the walkway open.

"There are certain areas, that if another major storms happens, we would not be able to protect," said Xenophontos, who was project administrator for original Cliff Walk restoration effort a decade ago.

Next year's project will be the first maintenance performed on the Cliff Walk since November 2000 when the city closed a 150-foot-long, 87-year-old tunnel behind Marble House to repair a sagging arch.

Xenophontos stressed that the coming repairs are mostly for maintenance purposes, and that the craggy terrain will remain on the Walk's southern half.

"We're trying to maintain the nature of that part of the walk," he said.

From The Providence Journal

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Cliff Walk: Newport's seaside hiking spot is newly renovated and gorgeous [ProJo.com]

This was last year's star Transportation Enhancement Project. Of course there's no mention of that in the article, since Projo hates acknowledging RIDOT for anything positive.

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