Explore Ballard Part I

Explore Ballard Part I, Seattle, Washington (A)

Ballard is NW of the downtown area. We start in Discovery Park. You will see all kinds of wildlife, the neighborhood group “Heron Habitat Helpers” protects urban nesting sites. So at the locks you are likely to see all kinds of seabirds, salmon and sea lions also. The small city center is full of great shops, eateries, nightlife, and galleries. Our tour covers the iconic spots that are a very special part of the history and fabric of the area.
Image Courtesy of allwhowanderarenotlost.
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Sights Featured in This Article

Guide Name: Explore Ballard Part I
Guide Location: USA » Seattle
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Article (A))
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3.0 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Author: Mary Tsolak
Author Bio: I am always traveling, and enjoy helping others really see what is out there! Born in Wisconsin, worked for many years in Oregon. Now living overseas and seeing as much of the world as possible. Photo is of me in the GYM mall on Red Square, Moscow August 2011.
Author Website: http://maryswanderings.net
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Discovery Park
  • Daybreak Star Cultural Center
  • Bernie Whitebear Daybreak Star Garden
  • Salmon Bay Bascule Bridge
  • Lake Washington Fish Ladder
  • Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
  • Administration Building
  • Carl S. English Botanical Gardens
  • Lockspot Cafe
Discovery Park

1) Discovery Park

This walk starts at the North Entrance to Discovery Park. There is parking and the number 33 city bus can bring you from Seattle Center. The bus runs every hour on Sundays and every half hour on weekdays. There is very limited parking down below at the locks and so in summer and on weekends this is the best place to start both by car and bus. By car since parking is free and without time constraints. By bus since it is the end of the line for the 33 bus so there is no mistake about where you are.

Some history of the park: The bluff was named during a U.S. Coastal Survey in 1857, the red-barked Madrone trees were mistakenly identified as Magnolias. During 1860-1880s the land of Magnolia Bluff was claimed and logged. Fort Lawton opened in the early 1900s, and by the 1970s, much of the fort's land was turned over to the City of Seattle to become Discovery Park. In 1970 The United Indians of All Tribes presented a claim to all lands that might be declared surplus. The city agreed to lease 17 acres to them for an Indian Cultural Center.

In 1973 it was dedicated Discovery Park in honor of the British sloop HMS Discovery, commanded by Captain George Vancouver during the first European exploration of Puget Sound in 1792.

Watch for Great Blue Herons throughout this walk, the Heron Habitat Helpers have worked to make sure their favorite nesting places remain intact. You can follow the road to the Indian cultural center or follow the wolf creek trail which is the next stop on this walk.
Daybreak Star Cultural Center

2) Daybreak Star Cultural Center

The Daybreak Star Cultural Center is located within 20 acres of Discovery Park on Magnolia bluff. Across from the front of the Cultural Center there is a bluff overlook platform with a great view of Bainbridge Island and the Shilshole Bay Marina in Ballard (look right). The front entrance is for Headstart and other programs. To enter the building go around to the back and up the steps on the side with the colorful mural. There is an art gallery on site. Often there are art shows featuring Native American crafts, pow-wows and other activities hosted here. You can also pick up a brochure/guide for the Daybreak Star Garden which is the next site .

History - Bernie Whitebear spearheaded the effort to reclaim Fort Lawton. He was the director of United Indians of All Tribes Foundation until his death in 2000. In 1970, a parade of vehicles formed in a south Seattle neighborhood. They moved north towards Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood and the recently decommissioned Fort Lawton Army base with red cloth banners streaming from the antennas of the cars. The occupants of the cars launched a coordinated effort to occupy the fort and establish it as a cultural and social services center for Seattle’s growing Native American population. During this event, the occupation’s main organizer Bernie Whitebear stated, “We, the Native Americans, reclaim the land known as Fort Lawton in the name of all American Indians by right of discovery. Today the center offers many programs for education and heritage preservation.
Bernie Whitebear Daybreak Star Garden

3) Bernie Whitebear Daybreak Star Garden

This is behind the The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center and is a memorial to Bernie Whitebear. It is a fairly new project. The plantings are young and are marked with the Indian names in the Lushootseed language also the Latin and common English names. Symbols are used on the signage to show if they were used for fibercraft, food, medical or ritual use. You can pass through here and take the Wolf Tree Nature Trail back if you did not come that way to go down to the Fish Ladder and cross the Dam to the Chittenden Locks. The original Indian center design included an outdoor experimental area for the revitalization of traditional knowledge including native foods and medicinal plants. Brouchures with the layout of the garden and the names of the plants are available from the Cultural Center.
Salmon Bay Bascule Bridge

4) Salmon Bay Bascule Bridge

From the Indian cultural center you will head back the way you came. Exit the park at the north entrance and turn left onto 40th Ave heading north, you are passing through a residential neighborhood towards the water. Then turn right on North Commodore Way. You will see the bridge as you approach the locks. A bascule bridge uses counterweights to balance its opening span so the bridge can open and close quickly, using very little energy in the process.  The Salmon Bay bridge is a single-leaf version, with a single opening span.

This bridge is a great favorite of my grandchildren. Nothing is better than standing underneath when they lower it and a train passes over! Built in 1914 by the Great Northern Railway, it has an opening span of 61 meters (200 feet) and has two tracks.
Lake Washington Fish Ladder

5) Lake Washington Fish Ladder

You will continue along the water after passing under the Salmon Bay bridge. If the salmon are running strong you are likely to see a few jumping out of the water, sometimes for a few days in the middle of a migration it is absolutely amazing everywhere you look a fish is making a mighty leap! The Steelhead run in Feb & March, Sockeye run in July, Chinook in late August and the Coho last 2 weeks in Sept.

When the fish are in the bay usually there are a few sea lions there also looking for an easy lunch. There are always seabirds of one sort or another and often you can see Great Blue Heron especially if you go during the quiet of the morning. We do not need to tell you too much here since there are plenty of informational signs and displays inside the viewing area to explain the life cycle of anandromus fish, history and workings of the dam. Before crossing the dam take the ramp down on either side you can see the ladders from above. Continue into the doors to the viewing windows. Even when the salmon are not running there is usually something, at least a stray Lamprey in the windows. Above the underground viewing area are the wave sculptures, “Salmon Waves” by local artist Paul Sorey in 2001. Also of some importance are the public restrooms there also! You may want to visit those before crossing the dam. The fish viewing gallery closes at 8:45PM.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

6) Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Often referred to as the Ballard Locks they are open to boat traffic 24 hours a day, 365 days a year except for annual maintenance in November for the large lock and two weeks in March for the small lock. Visitors are welcome the grounds from 7AM to 9PM every day. About 40000 vessels pass these locks in a year. The lock master is in the control tower with windows on all sides.

The locks prevent the salt water of Shilshole Bay which flows directly into Puget Sound from mixing with the fresh water of Salmon Bay.

The big lock is 825 ft (252m) long, 80 ft (24m)wide, and has a maximum usable depth of 34 ft (10m); the lock walls are 55 ft (17m). A boat 760 ft (232m)long and 80 ft (24m)wide can be elevated from the Puget Sound level to that of Salmon Bay in 10-15 minutes. The large lock can hold up to 100 small vessels.

The small lock is 150 ft (46m) long, 30 ft (9m)wide with a maximum usable depth of 16 ft (5m); its lock walls are 42 ft (13m) high. Almost any size vessel can go through from canoes to submarines. There is no fee for passing the locks with any type of vessel. The Locks were opened formally in 1917 but the first ship passed in August 1916.
Administration Building

7) Administration Building

This sight is often completely passed by those who have come to see the action at the locks. It is worth it to stop and have a look at this cast concrete building. It was designed in the Second Renaissance Revival Style in 1914 and built by the Army Corps of Engineers. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Flags of Washington State and the Army Corps of Engineers fly above the building. The building's interior space is quite extraordinary, with remarkable woodwork and high open roof. It contains the working offices for the locks so touring the whole thing is not an option, but you can enter the lobby area through the front door and spend a few minutes admiring the interior!
Carl S. English Botanical Gardens

8) Carl S. English Botanical Gardens

After having a peek at the locks administration building you will want to walk towards the back of the building and into the Botanical Gardens. The botanist for whom these gardens were named was hired by the Army Corp of Engineers right out of college in the 1930's to create and maintain the landscaping for the locks. He and his botanist wife Edith, went on searches for seeds that they then could either nurture in the federal garden or trade for exotic seeds from distant growers in China, Brazil and Europe. The result is about 500 species from around the world carefully laid out in these gardens. There is a variety of tree called the Dawn Redwood once thought to have been extinct. It was discovered growing in China and Carl arranged to have the first seeds ever shipped to the US. Eight of these specimens are growing in the park today. You can pick up a guide to the paths and the plants found here in the visitors center which is open from 10AM – 4:00PM Thursday though Monday. In the summer there are often free concerts. After walking the loop here you will exit to the next sight via the gate opposite side from where you entered.
Lockspot Cafe

9) Lockspot Cafe

As you exit the Botanical Gardens and cross the railroad tracks you should spot the Lockspot Cafe to your right. It has the red telephone booth out front. This restaurant has been around in one form or another for over 90 years. The facade you see with the outside seating has a separate kitchen with a limited clam chowder and deep fried seafood selections & chips. There is more, go around the corner to the next entrance and you will find full indoor seating. They have a full menu including non-seafood items. There is a bar where you are likely to meet a local denizen or two and can chose from a wide selection of local micro-brews or traditional standards. The decor is late 50's early 60's. There are a few photographs of the original building on the wall of the bar when it was more of a place for the workers around the area to have a lunch. The original building was moved to this spot from up on the hill. There are many places to eat in Ballard and we are not listing them all here just those old iconic or really unique places of Ballard that make them special enough to include on our tour.

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