Ballard Treasure: Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

[photopress:404_0447_IMG.JPG,thumb,alignright]This is the first post in what I hope will be a regular feature. My plan is to post on local treasures… Potential topics include interesting places, events, people, businesses that make Seattle a special place to live.

The Hiram M. Chittendem Locks (also known as the Ballard Locks)

What are they?
The Ballard locks opened in 1916 and were built to raise or lower vessels 6 to 26 feet (depending on tide and lake level) to compensate for the difference between the levels of Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Back when the locks were first designed and built, Ballard was a major economic center with a substantial portion of Seattle’s fishing and freight traffic passing through this area. Today, commercial fishing boats still pass through the locks but almost all of the freight traffic has moved to much larger and deeper ports in other parts of the state. The majority of the boat traffic passing through the locks are personal boats either returning from an ocean trip (likely to the beautiful San Juan islands) or a visiting boat from some other part of the world.

How do the locks work?
Think of it like a huge modified bathtub. The important elements of this bathtub are that it has a plug (to stop water), a spigot (to let water in) and two gates (one on the freshwater side and one on the saltwater side). In order to get a boat from the saltwater to the freshwater, the saltwater-side gate is opened and the boat enters. Then the saltwater gate is closed (forming a bathtub) and the tub is plugged. When the spigot is turned on, freshwater fills the water level of the bathtub up to the level of the freshwater canal (thanks to gravity!). Then the freshwater-side gate is opened and the boat can enter the canal.

At this point, boats that want to go from freshwater to saltwater can enter the bathtub. Once the freshwater-side gate has been closed, the plug is pulled causing the water-level to fall until it reaches the level of the saltwater. At this point the saltwater-side gate is opened and a boat can enter the salt water!

Other Activities at the Locks
In addition to watching the boats rise and fall with the water level at the locks, there are other activities at the Ballard Locks that can make for a wonderful afternoon. There is a nearby Salmon run and during the summer, some interesting gardens and sculptures, and the grounds are home to some great entertainment on weekends during the summer.

From the locks it is just a short walk along a spillway to get to the “fish ladder” that allows fish to bypass the locks and get to their natual habitat on Lake Washington and beyond. Sockeye, Chinook and Coho salmon, as well as cutthroat trout and steelhead use the ladder to migrate through the canal to Lake Washington. All of this is fun and educational making it a great place to take kids!

Another fun activity at the Ballard Locks is to visit the beautiful botanical gardens. Spreading over seven acres bordering on the canal are some 500 species and 1,500 varieties of mature trees, shrubs and flowers from all over the world. In addition, a small stage is set up most weekend days during the summer on a grassy knoll making this a fun place to spread a blanket and enjoy a picnic.

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Do you have an idea for a local treasure that you’d like to see featured on Rain City Guide? Let me know.

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  1. Pingback: Seattle’s Rain City Real Estate Guide » Capturing Downtown Ballard on Video

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