A rare look at the Ballard Locks

Each year the Corps of Engineers “de-waters” the Ballard Locks, which is the official term for letting the water out, to scrape barnacles off the walls and make sure all the mechanical systems are working properly.

This morning I had the opportunity to climb 55 feet down the scaffolding to the bottom of the large Lock and see the structure from a rare point of view.

Here’s a short video clip (above) taken inside to give a sense of perspective.

Dru Butterfield, the Natural Resource Manager at the Locks led the tour. He took the small group into the filling conduits, or tunnels, along the side of the large locks, where volunteers are busy scraping barnacles off the walls. The sound of the scraping is deafening and the smell is eye-watering.

“The reason we hand-scrape barnacles is because we haven’t found a way to mechanically remove them that is more efficient than scraping them,” Butterfield says, “and we haven’t found any chemical that we can use that isn’t hazardous to the fish.”

Here’s some video above of the scraping in the filling conduit. (It’s a little loud. Make sure your audio is turned down before playing.)

It’s important for the barnacles to get scraped each year so juvenile fish don’t get de-scaled or injured as they make their way to the sea.

On the other side of those gates is 45 feet of fresh water pushing hard to get into the empty space where we’re standing. Thankfully the gates don’t budge.

When the Locks were first built back in the early 1900’s the gates used pulley systems. With the water gone, we got a glimpse of the old pulleys.

The Locks will be “de-watered” until November 25th.

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

33 thoughts to “A rare look at the Ballard Locks”

  1. Next year they need to call Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” to help scrape off the barnacles – looks like this would make a fun episode. :)

  2. I posted the “Ballard Lock” cleanup as a official suggestion to Dirty Jobs last year and the year before but they had already done another locations “locks” cleanup show.

  3. Did you know that the Locks are the third biggest tourist attraction in Seattle, right after Pioneer Square and the Space Needle? Also the third bggest in WA State, after Mt. Rainier, then the Space Needle. And in our own back yard, too. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.It really is one of the “engineering wonders of the world.”
    One of my pals, Adam Woog, wrote a book on it, available aat their gift shop.The photos of them building the locks are quite amazing. (as well as the pictures of people getting boats stuck in their sideways, etc.)


  4. As long as we're in trivia mode, it's also the most heavily-trafficked lock system in the US. And those are the original 1917 doors, built to last!

  5. Spectacular pictures! I hope I can get down there while this persists. I usually ride through every day from Magnolia but the path has been closed from the Magnolia side.

  6. I am so impressed by the Ballard Locks and the volunteers who are hand-scraping the walls !!! It really restores my faith in the human spirit that the cleaning is done with such enthusiasm —- for the sake of the environment !

    My son now works out of Washington State and lives near the locks and I have been researching them as an artist –originally to paint a canvas for him …. the more I research , I am so VERY proud of the state of Washington for their dedication to the value of our earth and the creatures that make it so beautiful !!!!! I enjoyed seeing the locks drained – and the videos !

  7. Thank you Geeky Swedes!

    These photos….are SOOOOOO Cool! I have oft wondered and pondered about what it all looks like …de-watered!

    The engineering of these locks is awesome and the volunteers: You Rock!

    Is there a waiting list to sign up for the barnacle scrubbing? Seriously, this would be a really interesting project to get to be a part of…even if for one year.

  8. For those coming from the Magnolia side, work on the sidewalk is done (ahead of schedule) so you can now walk/ride across. The lock is still drained as of this morning.

  9. I wonder how many pairs of sunglasses they find down there when they empty it out. All those tourists leaning over to look down at the pretty boats all summer long….

  10. Ha. That was the first thing I thought of when I saw they were drained. My father dropped his reading glasses from his shirt pocket when he was leading over to look down a few years ago.

  11. Great stuff! My hat's off to all you Geeky Swedes, and to Dru Butterfield (a real sweetie, almost literally — did you see the stash of candy he keeps by his desk?). Now: Everyone who reads this, please run out and buy my book, “The Ballard Locks” (Arcadia), available at the Locks gift shop & other fine venues. (See the unsolicited testimonial below.) The book makes a great gift!

    All best,
    Adam (“Shameless Plug”) Woog

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