BOATS LINING UP IN HIRAM M. CHITTENDEN LOCKS, SEATTLE. © COPYRIGHT GIVEN PHOTOGRAPHY 2019
From the Puget Sound Urban Nature Series
HIRAM M. CHITTENDEN LOCKS
by Rebecca Bailey
This 100-year old plus park features a little bit of everything Seattle. Locally known as the Ballard Locks, it features two locks that link Puget Sound to Lake Union. Approximately 45,000 boats float through these locks per year and in summer hordes of tourists gather along the railings to watch the “big boat elevator” process. It’s a great local scene, too. On any given day you’ll find families, walkers, bikers, picnickers, sunbathers, readers, joggers and dog-walkers taking advantage of this distinct park.
A wide pathway takes you through the upper part of the park. Here you’ll find a large area of terraced lawn that overlooks the locks. It’s a picturesque place to spread out a blanket or lounge on a bench.
The large trees that border these grassy areas are part of a 7-acre botanical garden that was started in 1931 by Carl S. English Jr. He collected plant species from around the world creating a beautiful English style garden. You can view this plant and flower collection throughout the park. Don’t miss the sweet little rose garden that is planted near the visitor center.
A cement walkway on the far side of the locks crosses the canal leading to a fish ladder with underground viewing. Interpretive displays help you learn and identify the different species of salmon that fight their way up the ladder. Also, on this side of the locks you’ll find Commodore Park, which offers more terraced lawns, benches, and a short promenade that takes you along the ship canal.
In the spring, about halfway down the promenade watch overhead for a Great Blue Heron rookery. The bird squawks and large splats of heron scat on the walkway are a dead give-away of where to look. Follow one of the upper paths to get a closer look at the heron chicks in their nests. Bald eagles, ducks and harbor seals are common sights, as well.
You can find answers to all of your questions about the locks and botanical garden in the visitor center. It has brochures, an interesting short film that shows how the locks came to be, and a gift shop with t-shirts and posters.
The Ballard Locks is a great place to be any time of the year. If you love crowds and want to feel like you are part of something exciting, go in the summer. Boats are lined up, garden concerts abound, and exhibits are ongoing. If solitude is your thing, go during the off season—you’ll still be surrounded by plenty of beauty. No matter when you visit, you’ll leave with a memorable Seattle experience.