My post on City Hall’s plaza and park generated two comments that made similar points: The park is cut off from the surrounding community. Absent programming (or in my view, noteworthy beauty), the park is not significant enough to merit overcoming the barriers to reach it.
“The park also sits in the center of a highway median, effectively. The Liberty/Commercial couplet is huge! On the north is part of OR-22. The park itself is recessed, and on the Liberty side totally sunken. There is little to draw you into it, and most of the time it’s pretty empty.”
Darrin Brightman writes:
But I believe it is so neglected because it isn’t a useful space.
It’s generally invisible, separated from City Hall by a parking deck and from everything else by arterials or the creek.
Access is either by walking along a busy arterial or by crossing a parking deck. Parking during the week is limited, further reducing accessibility.
Once there, there’s no reason to be there; the space is not programmed, and there is nothing to do except dodge the Canada geese’s leavings.
Their critique is dead-on. The park’s boundaries are really better understood as barriers. I focused on maintenance issues, but access, circulation, and absence of programming is really what prevents the park from thriving. However, there is an opportunity to make Mirror Pond and its park a lovely way station on an urban greenway that runs from Minto Island to Pringle Park. Here’s how.
Pringle Creek Trail
On the southeast edge of the park, there is a dark, unmarked pedestrian bridge that carries people under the Liberty Street bridge and puts them on a path alongside Pringle Creek’s north bank. The path continues on a few dozen feet before diverting up a set of stairs and through a narrow corridor created by the Pringle Parkade on the north and Salmon Run on the south. One then crosses High Street to access the path that continues east alongside Pringle Creek. At Church Street, pedestrians again cross the street before diving back down to the trail that now runs alongside Shelton Ditch. At the Northbank Plaza building, a footbridge cross Shelton Ditch to provide access to Pringle Park.
The Pringle Creek Trial, a linear or connector park, suffers from neglect. A portion of the trail has eroded away. The passageways under the bridges are dim and frightening, There was only one sign along the route and it points to other attractions. The trees and plants are neglected. The trail requires two at-street crossings.
The path west to the Willamette River, Riverfront Park, and Minto Island is as yet unrealized. An expansive concrete path leads pedestrians from the west side of Mirror Pond park down to Pringle Creek and runs underneath the Commercial Street bridge. It ends, however, in a locked gate put in place by the owners of South Block.
I have read that the Commercial Street bridge was built to allow a pedestrian bridge to hang underneath it. If that’s the case, the City can connect Mirror Pond park to the planned north Pringle Creek path, which runs to Riverfront Park, across the new bridge, and on to Minto Brown Island.
A Treatment Plan for Pringle Creek Trail
- Signage. The park trail would benefit from simple consistent signage that helps pedestrians navigate from Mirror Pond park to Pringle Park and back.
- Lighting. Even in daytime, the paths under the bridges are dim and scary. The city needs to add bright lights that operate during park hours.
- Street crossings. The path crosses High and Church streets. If the expense is too great to run the trail under the streets, then a crosswalk and painted markings on the sidewalks should be installed to direct users back down on to the path.
- Blue light emergency phone. Crime is low in Salem, but safety is partly about perception. A forested, urban trail may benefit from the instillation of police panic button stations.
- Path renovation. The path is a confusing mix of materials, portions of which are in poor condition.
- Maintenance. The landscape within the path’s proximate corridor would benefit from systematic removal of invasive species, planting of native species, and removal of debris. (The City cleans Pringle Creek annually through a commendable riparian maintenance project.)
- Build the bridge. (No, not that one.) The City needs to install a pedestrian bridge under Commercial Street to allow access to the north bank of Pringle Creek and its connections to Riverfront Park and Minto Brown Island.
- Programming. Darrin Brighten made the point that parks need attractions to generate use. Mirror Pond and Pringle Park lend themselves to a range of programming. For example, there is no ice rink in Salem, or roller rink for that matter. And, to my knowledge, very few of our Salem parks have cafes.