Florida, for all its natural splendor, always seems on the verge of losing some wild, irreplaceable treasure. There are sickly, polluted bayous to restore, vast tracts of threatened swampland to shield from development and enough endangered birds and reptiles to keep a misty-eyed environmentalist from sleeping well at night.
So it surely will not come as a surprise to anyone that the state is being told about another troubled species. This creature has 24 arms and 24 legs. It travels at amazing speeds and can grow, under the right conditions, to almost 24 feet in height.
Oh, and it looks great in form-fitting bathing suits.
The people who run the state's Florida Forever conservation program think this creature is worth saving. They've been contemplating buying its habitat: the Cypress Gardens amusement park, one of the oldest and most beloved in the state.
The 67-year-old park closed this month because business has slackened since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But, if Florida Forever has its way, the park will be bought by the state and re-opened, said Kathalyn Gaither, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
"It's a great property, great land and beautiful water," she said.
Gaither's colleagues envision a time when tourists will once again wander through the park's precious botanical gardens. But she knows something else will also have to be restored: the park's signature pyramid of 12, swimsuit-clad water skiers, who thrived in sun-splashed glory until the park closed and they suddenly became extinct.
-- Manuel Roig-Franzia