Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor Center

Survival of the Fishiest

The Challenge

This award winning educational interpretive center features audio/visual stations, games, and many other interactive opportunities for kids to learn about the life cycle of Pacific Northwest Salmon. Each of the elements we built needed to be incredibly durable, safe and fun to use.

The Solution

The “Heft a Salmon” exhibit features several different sizes of fiberglass salmon that are weighted to show kids what it might feel like to lift a large wild fish. Designed to incorporate a braking mechanism that prevents the pinching of little fingers, the cable on which the fish move up and down can also be detached for easy maintenance and cleaning. A central feature of the visitor center is the Interactive Survival Maze. In order to illustrate the difficult journey that a salmon must make in order to bypass existing dams on the Cowlitz River, Dillon Works was tasked with building an interactive sculpture that would physically demonstrate the salmon’s journey. By using ball bearings to represent the fish and a hand crank employed by children working the “fish ladder” to send them down river, the model is able to clearly demonstrate the process by which the fish move through the dams before being released and sent on their way to their spawning grounds. It was important to represent how many fish die off each year during migration and so the exhibit is designed with assorted sizes of openings so that some of the ball bearings fall through the river bottom en route to the dam.

Experience Counts

We built a full-scale mockup of the “Interactive Survival Maze” sculpture back at the shop to fine tune the flow and velocity of the bearings as they “swim” down the chute. We did this because while computer models are a great tool for designers and engineers alike, sometimes you need to speak with gravity face to face.

  • Client : Tacoma Power
  • Design : Lehrman Cameron Studio
  • Venue : Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Visitor and Interpretive Center
  • Location : Salkum, WA