The Ballard Locks

June 28th, 2011


Took a trip today out to Ballard the old Scandanavian fishing village suburb of Seattle. Nice area with a large marina, lots of cafes and shops, and also the famous Ballard Locks (or officially the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks). The locks connect Puget Sound with Lake Washington and Lake Union (the Lake Washington Shipping Canal) and are used to maintain the water level of the fresh water lakes which are actually about 20 feet above the sea level of the salt water Puget Sound. They prevent the mixing of salt and fresh water, and allow boats to move from the water level of the lakes down to sea level and vice versa back up to the lakes.

The locks

The movement of the boats through the locks is quite fascinating to watch and you can be right there in the middle of the action as it happens (it’s far more interesting to watch than you would imagine)! Boats enter the locks, the big gates close and the locks either raise or lower to the applicable water level, allowing the boats to then sail into either the lakes or Puget Sound. This all happens relatively quickly and before you know it other boats are entering the lock from the new water level and the process begins in reverse.

Boats enter the lock from Puget Sound
Lock rises to lake water level
Lock reaches lake water level and gates open
And the boats are away

Near the locks are what they call fish ladders, these help salmon get through the locks and out the Puget Sound and also allow them to return to the lakes and rivers to breed and spawn (basically allows their natural migration not to be disrupted by man made structures). They have an underwater level viewing area where you can watch through large windows as the salmon swim through the locks.

Salmon in the fish ladder

Unfortunately many of the poor salmon on this day, after surviving the rigours of getting to and from the sea, met a grisly end. Once they got on the lake side of the fish ladders, some government officials were catching them and killing them for DNA testing! Seemed a bit strange given that these were the few survivors of so many…oh well, all in the name of science apparently????

I will have to return out to Ballard some day to visit the Nordic Heritage Museum. The museum highlights the background and achievements of the Scandanavian immigrants to the Pacific Northwest (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). There is also a cool gallery (Nightingale Gallery) there that has Seattle specific posters, tshirts, artwork which include zombies, sasquatch and the like done to the style of old tourist postcards etc! Unusual and very cool (was closed on this day).


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