October 09, 2002 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

ISLAND CITY — Poplar trees are not the only thing swaying this fall at Island City Elementary School.

Students are swinging energetically from side to side while using a popular new piece of playground equipment — the Ring Trek. The device has about 15 rings that children grasp while moving about 20 feet from one platform to another.

Ring Trek is part of a new set of playground equipment at the school, most of which was put in over the summer. The school, City of Island City and parent and community groups helped with the project.

"It was a great community effort,'' said Island City School Principal John Tolan.

The equipment, which is plastic and worth more than $20,000, replaces old wooden items at the playground that were becoming dangerous, Tolan said.

"It was unsafe. Children were getting slivers,'' he said.

Tolan rates Ring Trek as the most popular playground attraction.

"They love the rings,'' he said.

The new equipment is almost as hard to miss as the tall poplar trees which line the south and west sides of the school grounds. The equipment put in this summer also includes a curved climbing wall, a snake pole, a side step climber and a Cargo Climb rope-climbing station.

The playground now has far more equipment than it did earlier. The additions came at an ideal time because Island City has 208 students this fall, 48 more than it had a year ago. Part of the increase is due to the closure of Riveria Elementary School in northwest La Grande in June. Riveria's students have been sent to schools throughout the district following the closure.

"It (getting the new equipment) was perfect timing,'' Tolan said.

Norma Mitchell, an educational assistant and recess monitor at the school, said the added equipment has made it easier for children to stay active on the playground.

"There are more things to do now. Children do not have to spend as much time waiting their turn in line,'' Mitchell said.

A major player in the playground project was the City of Island City. The city provided $10,000 for the project through a grant it received from the State Parks and Recreation Department.

Island City Elementary's Parent Teacher Organization also was a major supporter, contributing about $12,000 for the purchase of the equipment. The PTO collected the money through fund-raisers over the past three years.

Tolan said the help received from parents and students are what made the PTO's fund-raisers a success.

The Island City Lions Club also contributed to the project through money it raised at Hog Wild Days.

The equipment was installed by the school district.

A portion of the equipment was put in at Fred Beeman Community Park, adjacent to the east side of the playground. A fence between the park and the playground was taken down to make it easier for children to access the equipment.

"This has really opened up the park area and the playground,'' Tolan said.

The park's land is owned by the La Grande School District which leases it to Island City.