The signs were subtle and few, but you could detect them if you really looked. There was a lone, barefoot baby girl with faraway eyes, sitting silently in a small patch of green clover. There was a discreetly hidden heap of broken yellow-and-white beach chairs behind a pool. And 200 forest-green prams, piled perfectly in neat stacks, waited by the entrance gates, unrented.

The summer season at Wild World Amusement Park in Largo is ending today, like a double scoop of "Jack & Jill" mint chocolate chip ice cream melting down the side of a sugar cone. And over the weekend almost everybody there, guests and staff, seemed resigned to the inevitability of tomorrow.

Nine-year-old Dorothea Knigge, a well-adjusted -- not to mention slightly wet -- philosopher from the District, put it this way: "Sometimes, like when it's hot and I'm bored, I like the first day of school. We have a lot of fun in school. We're going to the fourth grade." Her twin brother, Sean, sat nearby, thoughtfully chewing on a slice of pepperoni pizza and sipping on a large Sprite that the two were sharing. Both had just emerged from Wild World's most popular attraction, the Wild Wave, and they loved it. Dorothea said dreamily, "Oh, the waves push me back and ..." "Shhhhhhhhhhh!," cried Sean, wanting a turn to speak. And then together, "You can jump over them! It's the best!"

No doubt about it: Of all the amusing possibilities -- water attractions, thrill rides, kiddie rides and shows -- the Wild Wave is the hot spot at the park. The pool is 45,000 square feet, with more than 1 million gallons of water in it. At its deepest, it's eight feet. The waves, which are powered by 60-horsepower turbine fans, are up to four feet high. By noon on Saturday there were already several hundred swimmers in the gigantic, wavy pool, and at least as many lounging around it. Lots of folks opted for renting inner tubes, so they could float and ride in the spray and the splash. The scene was surreal: hundreds of bobbing beings in oversized, inflated orange inner tubes that resembled, at a distance, gigantic orange Life Saver candies.

It was sort of like being at the beach, only the "sand" was actually a sun deck carpeted with artificial grass. You had to step around the brown bottles of Coppertone, the white cellulite thighs, the acid-toned plastic baby sunglasses with Minnie Mouse on them.

Sarah Krucoff, a tawny 18-year-old from Crofton with a tiny gold star in her right earlobe and two round diamond studs in her left, is the manager of the Wild Wave and its numerous lifeguards. This is her third summer at Wild World. She was a lifeguard at first, then got promoted. She's starting college this month. "It's kind of sad," she observed, "to have summer come to an end."

Over the PA system, the Fixx sang "One Thing Leads to Another." For 15-year-old groundskeeper Michael Townsend, litter leads to sweeping. Looking bright in his Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and sneakers, Townsend was experiencing, ironically, his first day on the job. "I'll be out here on the weekends for another month," he said. (Though the park is closed beginning tomorrow, he'll be around to help "winterize" it.) He said he prefers this work to his earlier summer job. "Beats working out in the fields with potatoes."

The sun grew high and sticky and hot. For some, it was too much. A large crowd of parents and kids ducked into the cool darkness of the Wild World Theater for "Zoobilee Zoo." Created by the Hallmark Co., the show featured a bestially costumed trio of characters -- Van Go Lion, Bill der Beaver and Lookout Bear -- who pranced and sang and romped their heads off. Transfixed and delighted, silhouetted kiddies squealed. After the show, Van Go Lion (or was it Lookout Bear?) raced backstage hollering, "MEDIC, MEDIC!" It was the sole mishap of the day: Bill der Beaver had gotten his tail caught on some stairs onstage during the performance.

Food service director Steve Tracy, 27, and his pal Tom Quick, 24, Wild World's revenue manager, took a break in the shade of some leafy trees. "We've gone through a ton of vanilla ice cream, four tons of french fries and four or five tons of hamburger this summer," said Tracy. "I've been pumped up all summer. Now I'll spend all winter getting ready for next summer."

"Monday can't come soon enough for me," countered Quick.

"You're pumped," repeated Tracy. He snapped his fingers. And then, "It's a desert. A shock. A letdown. It's like, 'What do I do now?' "

Operations manager Joel Schlossberg, 24, who put himself through school by working at Wild World, watched from behind jet-black Ray-Bans as the late-afternoon guests milled around the park. "I'm sorry to see the kids go," he said. "This place'll look like a ghost town soon."

For Schlossberg, it's not only the purely visual stimulations he'll miss come tomorrow. "It's all of the sensory things," he said. "The noise of people and the chain of the {roller} coaster, the smell of the fries and the taste of cotton candy. There's a melancholy now, something subdued in the humidity. People's mind-sets change on Labor Day. It could be 100 degrees out, but summer ends on Labor Day, regardless of the temperature and the weather. Today is like a last hurrah."