Ballard Locks fish ladder viewing room reopens to the public

Originally published by, article by Meghan Walker

Original Article:

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks fish ladder viewing room has reopened to the public after renovations.

The U.S. Army Corps held a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week to celebrate the reopening. The fish ladder viewing room renovation was the result of a partnership between the U.S. Army Corps, Discover Your Northwest, and the Corps Foundation. The three organizations raised funds to improve lighting and acoustics, install an HVAC system, update the sound system and video collection, redo the indoor seating area, and provide a clear panel for ADA visitors to view salmon.

“Our partners Discover Your Northwest and Corps Foundation collected more than $1M in donations toward the project, which we consider to be the largest natural resource management challenge partnership to date and a model for future partnership projects,” the U.S. Army Corps shared on Facebook.

The fish ladder has been closed for quite some time; it shut in early 2020 at the start of the pandemic, and has remained closed to the public until now.

“The fish ladder gives an alternative path beyond our Lock dam for adult salmon to migrate home to spawn. Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are located where salt and freshwater meet, creating the optimum environment for salmon to undergo a substantial biological change,” the U.S. Army Corps shared in a statement.

“Since salmon need to acclimate back to fresh water, they must remain in this area anywhere from six hours to half a day to complete their transition, which includes allowing more oxygen to circulate in their blood. It is also at this phase that the salmon will no longer eat to spawn.”

The fish ladder traverse is the last time the salmon are in the ocean phase: “They will then decompose, develop hook noses to compete, spawn in the river they were born in, and die to be food for the next generation.”

Several parts of the century-old Ballard Locks have been updated in recent years—the Stoney Gate Valves have been upgraded in the past few years. The most recent work was done in 2020, when crews closed the large chamber of the Ballard Locks for several weeks to replace the 102-year-old valves.

The valves, located underwater, require the chamber to be completely drained to replace. Once fully replaced, the valves—named for their inventor, Irish engineer Bindon B. Stoney—will be good for another 100 years.

Just last year, the fish ladder itself needed repairs after flooding damaged some of the underwater support structures.

The fish ladder is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week. To learn more, visit the Corps Foundations website.

Photo: U.S. Army Corps