Every time Associate Editor Jule Campbell returns from the locale of a sunshine issue—an in-house euphemism—she says, "This is the most beautiful place in the world. What can we possibly do for an encore?" What she opted for this time was "someplace campy," as she put it—Miami Beach. Managing Editor Gilbert Rogin said, "Well—Florida, maybe, but not Miami Beach. In many places, there's almost no beach at high tide." So Campbell disappeared under a stack of books, maps and magazines and eventually surfaced with tales of little-known, lovely and decidedly uncampy islets. You can view them, and five super ladies, too—Christie Brinkley, Carol Alt, Lena Kansbod, Rita Tellone and Kelly Emberg—starting on page 52.
As it happened, Rogin had been worrying about Key Biscayne, his own vacation retreat of 20 years. Where once there were jungly tracts and only one building with as many as three stories, now high rises popped up like mushrooms. Rogin asked Senior Writer Robert Boyle, "Is Florida going down the drain?"
Boyle, author of SI articles on such despoiled wonders as Lakes Superior and Erie, the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay, set forth to find out. What he discovered emphatically did not make for a typical account of Paradise Found.
Boyle got in touch with Nathaniel Reed, a former Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior and a resident of Jupiter Island near North Palm Beach. Boyle calls him "a central figure in the battle to save Florida." Reed said, " Florida is being devastated, by pollution and extraordinarily rapid development," and set up appointments for Boyle with 30 knowledgeable people around the state. "Reed accounted for every minute of my waking time," Boyle says, "and some of my sleeping time, too." He drove about 800 miles that week, and returned North with more than 50 pounds of books, articles and scientific papers.
Senior Reporter Rose Mary Mechem spent two weeks in northern Florida on interviews, and Staff Photographer Lane Stewart was sent to the state.
Meanwhile, the swimsuit brigade was cold—the models were issued wool blankets to go with their bikinis—and worse than cold was Photographer John Zimmerman's first day. At dawn he was 750 feet above Panama City's Shell Island in a helicopter; moments later he seemed unlikely to see the dusk. "There was a foul smell, like burning brake linings," Zimmerman recalls, "and suddenly the copter began to spin and fall." He tore three cameras from around his neck, fearing they would knock out his teeth on impact. Had the pilot, Bryan Scarbrough, not fought the copter away from the water they wouldn't only have sunk, they would have rapidly twisted into the sea. As it was, all three people aboard walked away from the wreck.
Under the schedule Campbell and her assistant, Sharon Mouliert, worked out for the five models, shooting started at 5 a.m. and continued until 6 p.m. each day, and because many of the locations were remote, the crew rarely got back to the hotel before nine. Because of the un-Floridian chill, the models risked goose bumps as well as mosquito bites: one day Alt counted 48 of the latter, and that was just from the waist down.
But all seemed happy: people sharing an adventure often are. And they had found that much of old Florida remains, though for how long is open to question. As Boyle observes, "Hordes of people will continue moving to Florida. It's a lot easier to be warm amid pollution than cold amid pollution."