Newport's Cliff Walk is a 3.5 mile stretch along the Atlantic Ocean, a public right-of-way carved out of some 64 private properties -- properties that certainly have to be among the priciest in the Northeast. It's one of the oldest public walks in the country
, mentioned by name in the Rhode Island Constitution, and its preservation has been a concern to Newporters for decades -- Claus Von Bulow, for instance, chaired the Cliff walk Commission in the 1970s.
Now, the Cliff Walk -- or, at least, the City of Newport, the State of Rhode Island and the Preservation Society of Newport County, owner of the Breakers mansion, whose grounds the path crosses -- is the target of a lawsuit before the Rhode Island Supreme Court, according to a story in The Providence Journal by reporter Mike Stanton.
The argument: it's hard for tourists to determine where the path-proper ends, and dangerously unstable rocky terrain begins. That's what happened nine summers ago to one honeymooning tourist, Simcha Berman, then 23. He was walking along the path with his new wife when they took a few steps towards the ocean to get a better look at the waves. The path gave way beneath him, Berman fell on to the rocks below, and is now a quadriplegic. It's not the first major incident on the Cliff Walk either, Stanton's article cites two deaths in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the newspaper's blog
reports that just last summer, an Indiana woman fell from the path to serious injuries.
The court will decide whether Berman is entitled to millions, and the question is, what, if anything should be done to the Cliff Walk to prevent such accidents from occurring? Should the walk be fenced off? It's easy to see how that would really interfere with the experience of the ocean vista. Or is this a case of tourists simply not using common sense? (That seems to be the take of the Providence Journal
, given the headline: Visitors to Newport Often Put Themselves at Risk.)
When I visited Newport a couple of weeks ago, I did spot a warning sign near the Breakers. It first concerned itself with making sure that tourists properly respected the rights of the the property owners, but then, it clearly stated "this trail has rugged terrain and can be difficult to pass." Although, I have to say, this particular sign didn't say anything about the potential for serious injury or even death on the walk. Perhaps it's implied, but a stroll along the Cliff Walk certainly didn't seem like anything too frightening, even on that particular moody, foggy gray day.
One of Newport's grand Cliff Walk estates, Hopedene is on the market for $19.5 million
. Pictures are below.