The earliest records of Dallas called it La Creole Creek, named by French Canadians. Rickreall Creek is a stream in Polk County, Oregon, United States rising on Laurel Mountain in the Central Oregon Coast Range and draining into the Willamette River west of Salem at Eola. The creek passes through the city of Dallas and the unincorporated community of Rickreall. The origin of the name is under some dispute, but one theory says that "Rickreall" is a corruption of "La Creole", La Creole River being another name for the stream
Rickreall Creek originates on the forested, eastern slopes of Oregon’s Coast Range and eventually winds its way through fertile valley bottomlands to meet the Willamette River just west of Salem. Over the past century this creek has undergone tremendous changes. With ample water flows, loggers in the early 20th century discovered they could transport logs from the productive wooded hillsides downstream to the towns of Dallas and Rickreall for milling without the need for splash dams. These activities were a boon to the local economy but log drives caused the stream channel to cut down, scouring it to bedrock in many places, and removed much of the existing large wood that naturally accumulates in rivers and provides benefits such as collecting gravel that filters water and provides fish habitat.
Although it’s been a long time since logs were sent down the river, a pattern was set; after each rain storm, water rushes headlong down the incised channel, carrying away gravels and fine sediment, and further disconnecting the stream from its historic floodplain. When the Rockhouse Fire swept through the upper part of Rickreall drainage in 1987, it found a less resilient river system. Most of the old growth trees near the river were lost which meant there would be no large trees available for 30-40 years to naturally fall into the stream; assuring there would be a lack of the in-stream habitat needed to support diverse aquatic life and slow down flood waters.
Dams were used for logging, these dams were used primarily to divert the timber along log flumes to a mill located where the Dallas City Park is located today. Some of the log flumes can be seen today in the Delbert Hunter Arboretum and Botanical Garden.
In 1959 the city of Dallas built Mercer Reservoir in the upper basin to protect and enhance their only water source. While the Rickreall has been a reliable source for drinking water through the years, the creek is often clouded with sediment by the time it reaches the reservoir, creating water treatment challenges and added expenditures for Dallas. Runoff also threatens to fill the reservoir with sediment, shortening its useful storage life.
By 2000, it was clear that if residents, ratepayers, and landowners wanted to ensure reliable drinking water supplies and good fish habitat, Rickreall Creek would need a new type of human intervention – to help repair and re-establish the stream’s original natural characteristics and watershed processes.
More information can be found at Working Waters.