Most people who go to Seattle visit Pike Market and see fish being thrown. But every city has attractions that are far more known to locals than to tourists, and great cities always have something new to keep you coming back. One of the more popular under-appreciated things to do in Seattle is to visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but I didn’t see them until I had been to Seattle many, many times. Are they worth it? Mostly. To be honest, Ruth actually enjoyed them more than I did.
When they were dedicated, it was 1917 and the locks were the largest navigation facility in North America. It was so groundbreaking that Commodore Perry attended the opening ceremony and led a parade of boats through the locks. Eight years before that he led an expedition to the North Pole and claimed to be the first person to reach it. However, his claim has since been disputed.
These locks connect saltwater Puget Sound with freshwater Lakes Union and Washington, a 6 to 26 feet difference depending on tides. They are also known as the Ballard Locks. Their mechanism seems fairly traditional to me, but its brochure calls these locks “a masterpiece of engineering”. They can accommodate everything from kayaks to fishing boats returning from the Bering Sea to 760 feet passenger ships and claim to have them through in 10 to 15 minutes.
Their designer, Hiram M. Chittenden, intended his locks to be able to accommodate the largest ships of the day. Engineer Chittenden also created the entry arch in Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, he had to retire due to failing health before construction began. the Army Corps of Engineers oversees their operation.
Locals don’t flock to these locks just to see boats pass through. The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden with 573 plant species in a park like setting is also here. I noticed far more people strolling the gardens than in the old-fashioned, rather tired museum. The fish ladders to assist salmon are also popular. There are lots of community activities, like a summer concert series. Currently, there’s a songwriting contest happening. The top 15 entries will get professionally recorded. Entry deadline is January 9, 2017.