On the site of an abandoned quarry in Northeast San Antonio, Texas, there’s a thriving multi-million-dollar theme park. It’s got waltzers, swings, a carousel, and a water park. It’s got an Italian bistro restaurant — and even sponsorship from car giant Toyota.
The park is spread over 25 “ultra-accessible” attractions over 25 acres, including the Butterfly Playground, the Sensory Village, the Whirling Wonder, the Wonderland Express, and Pirates Island.
There’s no fluorescent lighting, latex, blinking lights or loud music. Everything is wheelchair accessible. One third of the staff have special needs, and funding support is available to help people from neighbouring areas visit the park.
And the best part? People with any special needs are admitted completely free of charge.
Photo credit: Backstage
Time for Morgan’s Wonderland
The park was created by Gordon Hartman, a life-long San Antonio resident and owner of one of the largest home-building and land development enterprises in the area.
He and his wife, Maggie, were inspired to create the park for their daughter, Morgan, who has special needs.
On the theme park’s website, Gordon explains that the tipping point for him occurred in 2005. He says he saw his daughter wanting to play with other kids on holiday at a hotel swimming pool, but the other kids didn’t want to play with her.
“Then and there, Gordon resolved to create opportunities and places where those with and without disabilities can come together not only for fun but also for a better understanding of one another.”
Gordon decided to sell one of his businesses and set about working with doctors, special education teachers, therapists, parents, builders and caregivers on what the perfectly inclusive theme park would look like. He directed his money towards a charitable fund, the ‘Gordon Hartman Family Foundation’, and spent $35m on the project.
Photo credit: Success Magazine
Open at last
And in 2010, after years of planning, Morgan’s Wonderland opened — replete with the 25 rides, playgrounds and colourful attractions.
“If you’re in a wheelchair and you go to a park, you look at a lot of the rides and you just look at them. You don’t ever think about getting on them,” Gordon told the website Freethink.
Morgan’s Wonderland is different: the merry-go-round has a wheelchair ramp and extra wide doors, and the entire car goes up and down, alongside the animals — so that everyone, whether sat on an animal or in a chair, enjoys the same experience, together.
The website also explains that in developing the water park, Gordon and Maggie worked with the University of Pittsburgh on a pneumatic chair that could be propelled by air instead of batteries. This allows the chair to get fully wet, so that anyone who visits ‘Inspiration Island’ is able to get completely soaked, even with warmer water, if they choose.
“Morgan’s Wonderland is just like any other theme park except for a culture and environment that assures 100% enjoyment by every person who enters through the Welcome Center,” the theme park’s website adds.