The locks themselves are part of an 8-mile long canal, 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep. The fact that it was important to minimize the intrusion of saltwater into the Lake Washington system was a mitigating factor in the eventual design. That design had been placed in the hands of Hiram Chittenden who decided that the locks should be large enough to accommodate the largest ship of his day, the Lusitania. He would retire before construction began in 1911, to be finished in 1917.
Ninety years later, the locks are still in constant operation. Run by the Army Corps of Engineers, the site encompasses a Visitor Centre, an Administration Building, two sets of locks, the larger being 80 feet wide, a dam that drops water from the freshwater above and a fish ladder. As an added bonus, there is the Carl S. English Botanical Garden.
Perhaps I approached a little jaded…been there, done that. That quickly went away as we watched a parade of pleasure yachts, fishing boats, and tugs with barges move through the locks. I was surprised when Maureen, who is usually disinterested in this kind of thing, insisted on watching an aggregate barge pass through. We crossed over the locks to look at the fish ladder, and of course, we were there at just the wrong time of year, nothing was moving through but at a better time, we would have been able to look down into the fish ladder, and even better, there is a viewing room looking into its side. It must be absolutely amazing during spawning. Steelhead move through mid-February until April; Sockeye go through in July, Chinook in late August and Coho in late September. Were I in Seattle during a salmon run, the fish ladder would be the city’s premiere attraction.
The botanical garden was created for the Army Corps of Engineers by Carl English. Beginning in 1931, Mr. English acquired specimens from around the world to create an English garden of rolling lawns and interesting trees. There are 573 species of plants in the garden, and the circular walk through it doesn’t take that long while it provides nice views over the canal. It makes for a pleasant walk on a sunny afternoon.
Results 1-4of 4 Reviews
Riverview, New Brunswick
June 12, 2007
From journal Jewel of the Northwest
by Harry Potter
New York, New York
October 23, 2002
The tour started inside the visitors center with a 20 minute lecture including visual aids led by a friendly, passionate, uniformed guide named Jay Wells. From there he took us past the botanical gardens noting it is the only army facility with a botanical garden in the Northwest and pointed out a particular tree with long, hanging needles called a yellow cedar. The 30 year old tree can live to be 1500 years old and was planted outside the administration building in such a way that it lines up with its columns. A photo of it is below.
Our small group continued down the path to the 2 sets of locks. The large lock had a large vessel waiting to pass (photos below) and we crossed the bridge to view the small lock. Soon the siren went on to alert people that the the locks were in operation and the bridge was opening. We watched a fishing boat pass through the smaller lock and the whole process took only about 5 minutes. We crossed another bridge to view into the part of the canal where schools of salmon gathered. It was explained how tubes and a ladder are used to help flush the salmon downstream while preventing injury to them as only 1 of each 1000 eggs actually survives until adulthood.
The last part of the tour was conducted in the fish viewing room where lighted windows allow you to watch the fish migrating. This viewing room shows part of the fish ladder and contains exhibits with explanations of the process. This educational tour is well worth the time and you can't beat the price.
From journal Soaking Up Seattle
December 18, 2000
But there are sights besides the boats floating up and down while waiting to move forward. The huge dam is pretty spectacular to a small kid, who might be awed and fearful of the huge blades spinning below. The fish ladder is wel constructed, allowing visitors to watch the salmon struggle upstream from a variety of angles. And the small botanical gardens are pleasant any time of the year, though the flowering small plants are particularly brilliant in the summer.
From journal Washington: Seattle
November 14, 2000
From journal Cool Seattle Experience