2016-10-13 / Front Page

Study Quantifies Cliff Walk’s Economic Value

Commission Considers Additional Bathroom
By Olga Enger


As part of ongoing repairs to Cliff Walk, crews are currently using a specialized engineering technique of concrete that is able to conform to the slope to repair significant erosion on the trail. The $1 million project is expected to continue into November and is funded by federal grants. 
(Photo courtesy of the Cliff Walk Commission) As part of ongoing repairs to Cliff Walk, crews are currently using a specialized engineering technique of concrete that is able to conform to the slope to repair significant erosion on the trail. The $1 million project is expected to continue into November and is funded by federal grants. (Photo courtesy of the Cliff Walk Commission) A recent study confirmed what local tourism experts have always touted — Cliff Walk is a major economic driver, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Newport every year.

The study reinforced the importance of maintenance to the popular attraction, which requires continual repairs to avoid closures.

“We always have ongoing efforts to keep Cliff Walk so it’s passable,” said Peter Janaros, chair of the Cliff Walk Commission.

Although Hurricane Matthew recently threatened the area, the valuable tourist attraction was not as vulnerable as when Hurricane Sandy hit four years ago. That storm devastated sections of the trail.

“We are in better shape now than we have been,” said Janaros. “We have stabilized a significant number of areas that were vulnerable before.”

Before Hurricane Sandy, the last major project was in the 1970s, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spent two years supervising repairs after the 1938 and 1954 hurricanes destroyed areas of the walk.

To quantify the trail’s economic impact, the Cliff Walk Commission engaged Salve Regina University students to perform a study. The effort was coordinated by the Center for Business Outreach and involved students from an Introduction to Econometrics class led by Professor Samuel Sacco. The class surveyed 273 Cliff Walk visitors between September 2015 and February 2016.

The results showed that the majority of Cliff Walk visitors, or 75 percent, are from New England. Most of the walkers, or 86 percent, responded they either dined or shopped while in Newport, thus contributing to the local economy.

“We have always intuitively known there is a great value in Cliff Walk,” said Janaros. “It’s not as much about the specific numbers, but that someone put a gauge on it.”

Tourists who enjoy Cliff Walk spend roughly $90 million when in Newport, according to the study.

“This is the first time someone has quantified it. The magnitude of it was surprising,” Janaros said.

The results were supplemented by a 2013 study conducted by the Preservation Society of Newport County. In that survey, visitors responded that the following activities were important to their visit to Newport: Newport Mansions (92 percent), Cliff Walk and Ocean Drive (88 percent), dining/shopping/ nightlife (82 percent), festivals (68 percent), and beaches and boating (60 percent).

“We are always looking to improve the visitor experience. One thing that came up in the survey was to install another bathroom further south from Narragansett Avenue,” said Janaros.

In the spring of 2015, two bathrooms were installed at Forty Steps. Grants covered 50 percent of the $550,000 project, which was completed within budget. An additional bathroom is a feature the commission is considering, Janaros confirmed.

Also for the first time last year, visitors were able to use their smartphones to learn about Cliff Walk, using 16 trail markers with quick response codes (QRCs) accessible through smartphone apps. Walkers may scan their phones to retrieve historic and geological information about the immediate area.

Crews are currently working on a $1 million repair project to stabilize the slopes and repair significant erosion. The work is being funded through federal grants earmarked for Hurricane Sandy repairs.

“It is a specialized engineering technique. They are using concrete that is able to conform to the slope. It was the same technique used to stabilize the slopes at Newport reservoir,” said Janaros.

In 2013, crews completed a significant amount of riprap stonework, which protects the shore from further erosion and future storms.

The draw of Cliff Walk has deep roots in Newport history. Historians believe the path was originally outlined by deer and further carved out by Narragansett Indians and then Colonials, who used it to salvage items from shipwrecks.

The walk is a public right-of-way over private property, which has required monitoring since it was developed into a recreational walk in the 1800s by the city’s wealthy summer residents. At that time, volunteers moved rocks aside, homeowners neatened their portions of the walk, and others built tunnels or bridges to make the trail more accessible to the general public.

The next Cliff Walk Commission meeting will be held Oct. 19 at 5 p.m. at the Newport Public Library.

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