On February 12, 2020, the large chamber of the Ballard Locks was closed for maintenance. The closure is due to run through early April as crews work to replace two Stoney Gate Valves. These valves are what opens the 102-year-old filling culvert gates and is the same technology that was used during the construction of the Panama Canal.
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, crews will be working 24 hours a day for three weeks of the closure to expedite the project. Much of the work takes place in the machine access area below ground, but visitors will notice visible signs of activity above ground as well.
Taking advantage of the closure of the large chamber, the Army Corps of Engineers will be offering guided tours of the locks starting on Wednesdays in March. The tours will be offered in groups of about 15 people and last for an hour and a half. Participants on the tours need to be comfortable with entering the locks using 70 feet of construction scaffolding and maneuvering in dark tunnels with uneven footing. The tour is not recommended for anyone with a fear of heights, claustrophobia, with mobility impairment, or with a severe airborne shellfish allergy, as the locks contain mussels and other species.
The tours will be lead by engineers, and participants should bring flashlights, rain gear, warm layers, and footwear appropriate for 4 inches or more of water. Proceeds from the tours will go to the nonprofit Corps Foundation, which goes directly to helping the Locks. The suggested donation per tour is $30.
For more information, reach the visitor center at (206) 783-7059. During the closure, the small chamber will remain open to vessels up to 28’ wide by 123’ long. The next extended closure is scheduled for Oct. 12 through Dec. 3, 2020.