Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, more commonly called the Ballard Locks, connect Lake Washington and Lake Union with Puget Sound. They were constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and were completed in 1917. They were built to maintain the water level of Lakes Washington and Union at 20-22 feet above sea level while allowing boats to move easily between these levels. The locks also prevent Puget Sound seawater from mixing with the fresh water in the lakes.
Recreational and commercial vessels, ranging in size from kayaks to 760 foot long ships, travel through the locks. They are let in one side and, once closed in, the water level drops 20+ feet to meet the Sound on the other side. The Ballard Locks see more boat traffic than any other lock in the U.S and are listed on National Register of Historic Places and the American Society of Civil Engineers Historic Civil Engineering Landmarks.
Seeing ships pass through the locks was cool, but that’s not why I went there. I went to see salmon because the Locks are also home to a fish ladder with 21 steps and several windows where visitors can watch salmon climb (er…swim).
The ladder is used by adult salmon (here it’s mostly Chinook, coho, sockeye, and steelhead) returning to freshwater to spawn, and later by young salmon heading out to the ocean soon after hatching.
I was there earlier this summer when Chinook salmon were estimated to be passing through at a steady rate of about 300 per day. Check it out:
If you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by! There’s also a great visitor center with tons of information on salmon and the locks, and beautiful gardens to wander through. The best viewing times vary for each species:Chinook: July – November, peak at the end of August
- Chinook: July – November, peak at the end of August
- Coho: August – November, peak end of September
- Sockeye: June – October, peak in July
Fun fact: fish ladders aren’t the only option for transporting fish around obstacles…have you ever heard of the salmon cannon??
Copyright © 2016 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.