NEWPORT, R.I. — A chunk of Newport’s beloved Cliff Walk collapsed on Thursday, breaking into the ocean.
No injuries were reported, but an approximately 20-foot piece of the Cliff Walk experienced a “significant landslide and partial collapse in the vicinity between 40 Steps and Webster Avenue,” according to the city.
Because of the damage, which tore up a section of the paved path where pedestrians typically walk, the Cliff Walk will be closed from Narragansett to Webster Avenue “for the foreseeable future.”
Public safety and public services crews were on the scene Thursday afternoon to assess the damage, according to a social media post from the city.
The place where the piece broke off “was ironically not one of the areas of concerns,” said Tom Shevlin, a city spokesman in an interview. “It’s a natural bluff that is well protected from surf and the intense ocean effects that you typically expect from a coastal walk way.”
Shevlin said the damage was brought to the city’s attention after a nearby pedestrian called the police, reporting that they heard a “loud noise” on the Cliff Walk.
Shevlin said the weather was “beautiful throughout the day” on Thursday, so the breakage could have been due to natural erosion or landslide water intrusion.
“There’s a number of natural, caverns formations that dot the cliff walk. They can, at times, become an issue,” said Shevlin, but explained to the Globe that it’s still too early to tell.
Caverns can be formed by an underground “river” that slowly moves through the cracks and crevices in limestone.
“It’s bad,” William Riccio, Newport’s director of public services, told the Newport Daily News. “This is crazy. It’s a complete failure of ... I can’t even fill in that blank right now. You can’t believe the piles of debris right now.”
Riccio told the Newport Daily News that a concrete wall next to a private residence could also be affected by the collapse.
“We’re in the process of bringing barriers down here and filling them with water,” he told the newspaper. “Because word is going to get out and people are going to want to get down here and see it.”
Salve Alert: A 20-foot stretch of the Cliff Walk north of Ochre Court, between Webster Street and Narragansett Ave collapsed earlier this afternoon. The city of Newport closed that portion of the Cliff Walk and deemed it a dangerous hazard at this time. pic.twitter.com/t7o3lj7mcr— Salve Regina University (@SalveRegina) March 3, 2022
The Cliff Walk is one of the seaside’s city’s biggest tourism attractions. It stretches 3.5 miles along the eastern short of Newport. It’s a public access walk over private property with views of the ocean and Gilded Age mansions.
The city typically performs maintenance, conducts inspections, and makes repairs on the Cliff Walk. “It takes quite a beating throughout the years,” said Shevlin.
“This is tough. It’s a showpiece for the state, and everyone really puts in the work to take care of it,” said Shevlin.
He said the last time the Cliff Walk saw extreme damages was after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Shevlin said it was a “multimillion dollar effort” to fix the walk, which had damage further down the trail, not close to the section that broke off on Thursday.
The breakage on the walk is isolated, but fixing it this time will present its own set of challenges since the the drop is quite high compared to other sections of the trail.
“At this point, we don’t know yet how much it’s going to cost or when it’s going to be open again,” said Shevlin, but said it will “definitely take more than a couple of weeks.”
The Cliff Walk is funded through a mix of private donations, as well as city, state, and federal funds, including grants.
According to the Cliff Walk’s website, it became a National Recreational Trail in a National Historic District in 1975.
“About two-thirds of the walk is in easy walking condition,” said the walk’s official website. “Parts of the southern half of the walk are a rough trail over the natural and rugged New England rocky shoreline.”
Some areas of the walk have a 70-foot drop into the ocean during high tide.
The Newport Cliff Walk Commission meets each month, and regularly posts “filling cracks” in parts of the walk as an ongoing maintenance and tasks.
Other parts of the Cliff Walk will remain open, with detours in place and signage.