Community support needed to help improve Ballard Locks fish ladder

The renovation plans for the fish ladder viewing area at the Ballard Locks are ticking along, with a recent $400,000 grant and upcoming fundraiser to help fund the improvements.

Several years in the making, the fish ladder redesign project will transform the viewing area, changing it from an “abysmal dungeon” to a theater-like viewing center with year-round educational programs. With over a million and a half visitors per year, the improvements are well overdue.

“If fish are running, people are happy. But that place is dingy – people don’t notice how bad it is,” Rich Deline, Corps Foundation founder and director, told My Ballard when the project was launched.

There are several problems with the existing fish ladder; according to the concept design, there have been no major upgrades since 1976. The acoustics are poor, the windows are small, and there are a “hodgepodge” of outdated ineffective interpretive displays. Additionally, the prime salmon viewing season is just five to six months of the year, which means visitors are disappointed when there are no fish to see, and there’s little in the way of information about the ecosystem and conservation work. The new education center is meant to change that, with interactive displays and better lighting.

The renovations will include installing video screens above the windows that will give information about the fish species and their migration. There are also plans to made the windows larger and cleaner, and take out the concrete to create an amphitheater arrangement with more comfortable seating.

The C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Trust gave $400,000 in April to help fund the fish ladder upgrades; the donation was the single largest gift nationally to a Corps of Engineers facility.

Improvements to the fish ladder can’t be funded without community support, as the Corp’s national funding only covers operational updates and renovations, such as fixing the dam walls and the Locks themselves. It will likely cost close to $1 million to complete the upgrades.

For more information about how to donate to the Locks, visit the Discover Your Northwest donation website.


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