Sunday, June 30, 2013

Excursion: Engineer's Day

Engineer's Day, the last Friday in June, is the only day each year the locks in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, are open to the public. Now that the kids are seven and eight, we thought they might be old enough to appreciate a visit up there.

Our timing was perfect! Just as we walked up to the locks the John D. Leitch (a 600 footer {about 182 M} out of Toronto) pulled in. The lock closed behind her and the water was slowly pumped out. Ships passing through from Lake Huron to Lake Superior, or vice versa, must pass through the locks because of the falls on the St. Mary's River. In the river there's a drop of 21 feet (about 6.4 M).  When we got home I started reading up on the locks and I was surprised to see that they are the busiest lock system in the world. Even though they're closed during the winter, over 10,000 ships pass through the Soo Locks each year. And, they're free! I thought for sure there would have been a toll; I mean they can't have been cheap to build.

You can see the difference between the high water of Lake Superior and the low water of Lake Huron below. The photo on the left is at the level of Superior while the photo on the right shows the water level of Lake Huron. The kids thought it was pretty cool that when the lock doors are closed they could walk right over them. K noticed that right in the middle she needed to step from on door to the other and there was a small gap between the two. She didn't like it, but as long as I took that step first she was OK. 

We waited patiently until the lower door opened and the freighter passed through into Lake Huron. The kids couldn't believe how close we were to that gigantic ship! They don't look quite so massive when they are out in the freighter channel.

After she cleared the lock she was on her merry way to places unknown...

 For us it was time to head over to the second open house of the day over at the Hydroelectric Plant.

It just amazes me that those generators, installed in 1902, are still running. They even had one shut down with all the parts labeled so the kids could see how it worked. Housed within the plant is Lake Superior State University's Aquatic Research Lab, so the kids could see where LSSU students raise and then release Atlantic Salmon into the St. Mary's river. We even got to watch for fish on their  "fishcam." You can check it out here.

Despite the clouds and spotty rain, we enjoyed Engineer's Day - especially our lunch at Zorba's Greek / American restaurant. (I'd link back to their website, but they don't have one.) It was the best meal we've had in a long time! I doubt we'll do this every year, but I'm sure we'll go back again when the kids are a little older. To me, this has "science fair project" written all over it.


kate said...

Awesome! We saw lochs in action on the Ottawa River when we lived back east, so cool.

We have a large hydro station here and a fish hatchery - both common field trip destinations for classes of all ages!

Sarah said...

I used to love going to the Soo Locks as a kid. We would go in the summer a couple of times and get an ice cream and walk the whole length of the park and watch the boats. I did find a website that allows you to look up boats and where they are and their destination.

chris7 said...

Neat blog. I got here by hitting "Next Blog" from my blog. I'm not sure how that works, but I'm glad I landed here. I had to Google Mackinac Island. How neat! I had no idea this island even existed... Your post reminded me of the time I toured Gatun Locks in Panama. Very neat -- wonderful that you could show something like that to your kids.

Valerie said...

I love locks! A shame yours aren't open to the public all of the time, we visit the little locks on the Rideau Canal frequently (they can only accommodate smaller boats, but they're still lots of fun on a summer afternoon)