Two in Tow & On the Go: Love-locks in Gig Harbor
Last week, the kids and I stumbled on a love-lock bridge right here in Gig Harbor. We’d just gotten our wiggles out by running down the big grassy slope at Donkey Creek Park (AKA parent-me trying to survive the “witching hours” between snack and dinner. Which, mind you, did not end after the terrible 2s as the parenting books promised).
Afterward, we headed up and around the corner to North Harborview Drive when the distinct glint of boxy brass and steel caught our eye. Sure enough, roughly 150 padlocks hung from the crisscross of cables between the guard rails of the 2013 city bridge over Donkey Creek.
Per their inscriptions, the shackles were indeed love-locks: a pop culture phenomenon that spanned the globe, popping up in random cities and made famous in Paris circa 2008. I’d read about couples and families clicking padlocks onto bridges to symbolize their love is forever — but I had yet to see them in real life. The idea is simple: bring a lock to a bridge with a person you love, clasp it shut, and throw away the key.
In Gig Harbor, some locks come with names, dates, and notes of affection — either in fancy engravings or doodled with permanent marker. Others show nothing at all. And who knew so many types of padlocks existed in the world? Silver gate padlocks, locker combo padlocks, fancy heart-shaped padlocks — they’re all there to peruse.
And that’s what makes this adventure worth taking your kids to. The locks are a kick to look at!
Clara and Wyatt walked up and down the little bridge (which doesn’t have an official name by the way) two whole times: Touching each lock and turning them over to search for clues. Of course, we chose our favorites.
- Clara’s fave was the big ‘ol rusty heart at the top left,
- Wyatt’s fave was the black heart on the bottom right for “Jim & Amy | Twin Flames,” and
- my fave was that cool green Slaymaker with the little art deco lines.
Here are some photos of our favorite locks, including not one but two types of turtle padlocks! Or perhaps that’s a tortoise. (Ps. do yourself a favor and ask Alexa to play “Turtle by Parry Gripp” right now and your kids will love it. I’ll wait.)
As adorable as the love-locks meanings are, not everyone is a fan. Cities typically dislike them because the added weight of hundreds of locks can be a real downer. (Get it??). No, but seriously, the locks can literally weigh down bridges and inflict structural damage. It’s happened before. The most famous example as hinted above is Paris’ Pont des Arts railing collapse of 2014, after the bridge accumulated hundreds of thousands of locks over a six-year span before disaster struck. Today, that 1804 Parisian landmark can’t even have its historic railings anymore — the locks have been cut off and the railings replaced with modern-day flat paneling to keep those pesky lock-toting lovebirds away. There’s even a whole website dedicated to banning the love-lock tradition in Paris altogether, saying the act is vandalism and pollution at its core.
Thankfully, Gig Harbor is still a ways off from the Paris catastrophe. Except, city employees tell me Gig Harbor doesn’t actually allow locks to be fastened to its bridges or structures. And while they haven’t taken bolt cutters to the love-locks just yet, the public works department is considering it. They also say tossing those keys into the creek below is flat-out littering.
Which is an unfortunate reality because that specific bridge is particularly important to the city’s environmental efforts to keep its Salmon habitat and waterways thriving. Our community even celebrates the site every year at Gig Harbor’s Donkey Creek Chum Festival. Here’s a cool video about the history of the creek site.
Gig Harbor isn’t the first Pierce County city to experience the wrath of the love-locks. Just across the Narrows, Tacoma and University Place have both discouraged the public from securing locks to their bridges after the little tributes popped up around 2013.
The first bridge alternative came about 12 years ago with artist Diane Hanse’s “Lock On Tacoma” for Sound Transit’s ‘A’ Street pedestrian underpass in the Tacoma Dome District. Hansen sculpted columns, painted them purple, and wrapped them in metal mesh to create a screen for visitors to attach their own love-locks to, according to her website.
Then, just last spring, Pierce County commissioned another large-scale public art piece titled “Swoon” at Chambers Bay Regional Park to encourage folks to unlock their tokens of love from the guardrail cables of the park’s Bridge to the Beach structure and place them on the artwork instead. The installation, aptly titled, was created by artists at Seattle’s Rohleder Borges Architecture. “Swoon” was scheduled to debut at the park last spring. I was supposed to visit the park with the kids to confirm this on Thursday, but instead, we ended up wading in Chambers Creek over by Steilacoom instead. Whoops.
Until then, I’ll be browsing old Slaymakers on eBay.
See ya out there!
Tonya Strickland is a Gig Harbor mom-of-two, longtime journalist, and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. Her blog, Two in Tow & On the Go, was recently named among the 10 Seattle-Area Instagram Accounts to Follow by ParentMap magazine. Tonya and her husband Bowen recently moved to Gig Harbor from California with their two kids, Clara (9) and Wyatt (7). Find her on Facebook for all the kid-friendly places in and around Gig Harbor.