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What should Weeki Wachee Springs State Park become?

I once wrote a column calling the Weeki Wachee mermaids "tacky.''

It was not, as they say in this business, well received.

My wife basically told me I was an idiot; Howard Troxler, the dean of Florida newspaper columnists, sent me a message asking if I also thought Mount Rushmore was tacky — which I took to mean he agreed with my wife. Months later, a reader I'd just met accosted me with this question:

"Why do you hate the mermaids?''

I don't, really. But, having sat through so many of their shows in usually futile attempts to entertain visitors and small children, I don't particularly care to see one again. Ever.

And there's this: When I think of a state park, which Weeki Wachee Springs has been for more than a year now, I think of something more natural than water slides and a slightly sexist entertainment relic that could reasonably be termed …

Okay. Better stop there. Besides, I really want to move on from my opinion to yours. That's what is important here. State parks are maintained with your taxes and admission fees. As long as no environmental ruin is involved, the public should get to decide what goes on there.

And now is the time.

Unless the process is hijacked by Joe Mason's request for $1.24 million in legal fees, the state Legislature seems to be ready to disband the city of Weeki Wachee.

So, finally, maybe, Weeki Wachee can be run as a park and only a park.

Also, the state has already said it wants to hear from you — said it almost a year ago, as a matter of fact. It held a public meeting Jan. 20 to record ideas for the future of the park. It plans to hold another soon, according to parks spokeswoman Jessica Kemper Sims, then draw up a plan.

Up until now, as far as I know, everything the state has done at Weeki Wachee has been perfectly responsible.

Exotic animal shows have been scrapped in favor of educational ones featuring Florida natives, such as alligators. To keep the buildings from further damage, almost all of them have either received new roofs or are receiving them. When I visited last week, there were so many nail guns firing, it sounded like a firing range.

But, if I had to guess, I'd bet the state doesn't do anything terribly different or imaginative with this incredible feature, one of the biggest springs in the state and the deepest in the United States.

For one reason, messing with the home of the mermaids could be political suicide — as I well know.

For another, most of the comments the park received in January suggested subtle changes or none at all. Keep Buccaneer Bay, one speaker said; the county's kids need a place to swim. Another called the mermaid shows an important "cultural attribute.''

Maybe you agree. Or maybe you'd have a bold, fresh vision, like the woman who wanted to see part of the park turned into a botanical garden. A natural experience within exhaust-sniffing distance of U.S. 19? That might be one way.

This is a marquee attraction. Hopefully you have an opinion, a creative one, and I'd like to hear it. I'll go through every one and report back. Maybe even ask for a vote on the ones you like best.

So go ahead. Add a comment to this story, send me an e-mail at dewitt@sptimes.com or call me at (352) 754-6116.

Just be careful what you say about the mermaids.

What should Weeki Wachee Springs State Park become? 12/19/09 [Last modified: Sunday, December 20, 2009 12:33am]

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