Just when you think you know a place, it surprises you. Take Newport, for example, a city I thought I knew pretty well. But one reasonably non-freezing winter day when four of us hit the city for a walk, sure enough, we found new something new – at least to us.
The Cliff Walk is arguably the most famous spot in the city, a three-and-a-half mile hike skirting the ocean on one side, very pricey homes and Newport’s legendary mansions on the other. We’ve been there a million times. But one thing we failed to notice has been there since 2015: Small trail markers with quick-response codes, those squiggly lined things you scan with your cell phone and up pops in-depth information about what you’re looking at.
For example, right by the Chinese Tea House on the walk, there’s a code reader. You scan it and instantly you can learn about how Alva Vanderbilt Belmont had it built, a nice little seaside addition to her whopping Marble House. There’s a bunch of them up and down the trail for the Breakers, Ochre House, and other must-read markers that really put you in the moment as you’d otherwise be standing, gawking and wondering.
According to the city’s Engagenewport.com, the content of most of the info at the 16 markers was researched and written by students at nearby Salve Regina University’s Cultural and Historic Preservation Department, the markers themselves crafted and installed by Boy Scouts Troop #3, led by Conner Flynn, as part of his Eagle Scout project.
They did a tremendous job using technology to bring the walk, which was named a National Recreation Trail – the first in New England – in 1975. The trail has been around, in one form or another, since the late 19th century, and in recent years much improved, including making it safer and easier to navigate.
Along the way you’ll see other things, less high-tech but funny: One sign posted by a private land owner on the walk admonishes you keep to off the fence, warning about a “Bad dog.” And by the water is a carefully constructed pile of cairns, just adding to the serene beauty of the hike.
So the next time you’re perambulating down Cliff Walk, scan, read and learn. And don’t forget to take photos with the cell phone you’re using to do it.
For more information on Cliff Walk, visit www.cliffwalk.com
All photos by Paul E. Kandarian