Most Salem residents have heard of Pringle Creek. Many also know where it ends – in a rush to the Willamette Slough at the foot of The Peter Courtney Bridge. Fewer, however, know where it comes from and how it gathers and grows for its surge to the river.
The stream is named after Virgil Pringle, a pioneer settler who arrived in the Willamette Valley with his family late in 1846 after a six-month overland wagon journey capped by a harrowing finish through Cow Creek Canyon near what is now Roseburg. He settled in the South Salem hills near a small stream that bears his name.
Pringle Creek actually consists of a number of small streams which drain a 15 sq mile watershed. These various streams, some of which are seasonal, combine to form three principal branches that in turn become one major stream.
The West Fork begins in the hills off Skyline Drive just after it branches off Liberty Road. The fork works its way northeast, much of its course hidden in underbrush or confined to culverts. There is one nice stretch visible from the road on the north side of the intersection between South Commercial and 12th St. near The Cutoff. The West Fork eventually merges with the East Fork at a somewhat lazy confluence near 14th St and Oxford.
The East Fork which originates in the hills south of Kuebler near Turner Rd runs slowly through the valley near Airport Dr. It merges with the West Middle Fork which begins in the southern reaches of the basin south of Kuebler between Commercial St and Battle Creek Dr.
After the confluence at 14th and Oxford the enhanced stream proceeds northeast of 12th St. It crosses 12th and enters the south boundary of Bush Park near Cross St. In a secluded spot near the south-east corner of the park it merges with Clark Creek a principal tributary that has its origins near Liberty Rd and Ewald and journeys through South Salem. Clark Creek is hidden on much of its course but it breaks out near Ratcliff and passes through a lovely park named after it.
After having been joined by Clark Creek Pringle is now a healthy stream and runs along the east boundary of Bush Park, flanked for a while on the east by the Deepwood wild area. It crosses Mission St and runs through the Salem Hospital grounds and then merges with Shelton Ditch, a major diversion from Mill Creek, at the western edge of the aptly name Pringle Park. From this confluence the stream which is quite large rushes under High St, Liberty St and Commercial St. Just before passing under Commercial St. bridge the Mill Race, a second diversion from Mill Creek occurring at Waller Dam on 21st St, joins Pringle which then runs through cement ruins left over from Boise Cascade’s old paper mill.
It ends at River Front Park. Future Riverfront Park plans include proposals to remove the ruins and connect a greenway trail that will run near the stream from Bush Park. The trail will provide a fitting exit for this important stream that runs through the heart of our city.