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Bob McCullough

25 June 2020

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Morgan’s Wonderland, Where Everyone Can Play

When most people think of Texas, they recall things they’ve seen in the movies like cowboys, horses and rugged, wideopen spaces.

But Texas is now developing a reputation as a destination for travelers with special needs. Historic and beautiful San Antonio deep in the heart of Texas is the home of Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s fi rst theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. Since it opened in 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland has welcomed approximately 1.6 million guests from all 50 states in the U. S. and 73 other countries.

“My wife, Maggie, and I are blessed with a 26-yearold daughter, Morgan, who’s dealt with physical and cognitive challenges since birth,” says Gordon Hartman, who gave up a successful career as a homebuilder to devote his energies to helping people of all ages with special needs. “Morgan doesn’t realize it, but she’s been the catalyst for new and different ways to assist and shine the spotlight on the special-needs community. It’s her inspiration that led to San Antonio being proclaimed ‘Inclusion City, USA’ in 2015.”

While on vacation in 2006, Hartman witnessed a life-changing incident. “Morgan, who was splashing in the hotel swimming pool, wanted to toss a ball around with kids at the other end of the pool,” Hartman recalls. “They sensed there was something different about Morgan, so they abruptly took their ball and exited the pool. I’ll never forget the look of surprise and anguish on Morgan’s face. That got me to thinking there must be a better way to bridge the gap of misunderstanding between those with and without special needs. This led to the creation of Morgan’s Wonderland, which uses the common denominator of play to create an atmosphere of inclusion.”

Morgan’s Wonderland

The completely-accessible, $36-million theme park in Northeast San Antonio opened in spring 2010. Its 25 attractions including rides, playscapes, gardens and other facilities enable those with special needs to do the same things as individuals without disabilities and boost their confi dence in a safe, colorful, affordable atmosphere of enjoyment. Anyone with a special need is admitted free of charge.

Generally speaking, Morgan’s Wonderland is open on select days from March through November. In December, the park decorates for the holidays and presents “A Wonderland Christmas,” special evening entertainment. For the latest information on days and hours of operation, special events and admissions, visit www.MorgansWonderland.com.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many lives Morgan’s Wonderland has touched, but I believe it’s a big number,” Hartman says. “Special-needs guests immerse themselves in having fun with family and friends, and they surprise and amaze themselves in doing things they thought were not personally possible. When we opened Morgan’s Wonderland, we didn’t know what to expect, but the park’s acceptance and growing popularity encouraged us to pursue a major expansion – Morgan’s Inspiration Island.”

Morgan’s Inspiration Island

Summers in Texas can be scorchers, so in response to many guest requests for something cool and refreshing, Hartman and company unveiled Morgan’s Inspiration Island – the world’s fi rst ultra-accessible™ splash park – in June 2017. This $17-million, 4-acre attraction features fi ve tropically-themed splash pads, the River Boat Adventure ride and extensive support facilities. Like Morgan’s Wonderland, admission for anyone with a special need is free.

Guests in wheelchair that previously may have been unable to visit a splash park have the opportunity to privately transfer out of their chairs into three types of waterproof chairs – one of them the PneuChair™ powered by compressed air and developed by Morgan’s Wonderland in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh. This gives guests the opportunity to enjoy Morgan’s Inspiration Island and not risk damage to their personal, expensive, battery-operated wheelchairs. Because of its uniqueness, Morgan’s Inspiration Island earned recognition on TIME magazine’s 2018 list of World’s Greatest Places.

“Inclusion is our mission,” Hartman says, “and this is clearly evident at Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island, where everyone can play. This also will be the case as we complete other projects in the near future.”

Morgan’s Wonderland Camp

Earlier this year, Hartman announced plans to construct ultra-accessible™ Morgan’s Wonderland Camp, a 102-acre recreational oasis on the northern outskirts of San Antonio that year-round will offer a summer-camp-type experience to people of all ages with and without special needs. The $28-million project, made possible with generous support from Valero Energy, will accommodate at one time more than 500 campers of all ages and abilities along with staff for day, weekend or week-long camp sessions. Facilities will include horse stables, hiking trails, a nature farm, multiple pools, a relaxing river, a sports pavilion and even a zipline that can accommodate wheelchairs. Projected completion is the latter half of 2020.

Morgan’s Wonderland Sports

Morgan’s Wonderland Sports, a $3-million complex that will offer fi tness and competition for athletes with different abilities, is currently nearing completion. The 3-acre facility will provide 8,000 square feet of covered space for wheelchair sports – basketball, softball, baseball, football, soccer, pickleball and tennis. Two acres of concrete playing surfaces will be tinted to minimize heat from the sun and striped in accordance with regulation dimensions for the various sports.

“We’ve learned a great deal from every project undertaken to help those with disabilities,” Hartman notes. “That knowledge and countless interactions with special-needs individuals have spurred us to pursue new and better ways to serve the specialneeds community. The assistance we’ve been able to deliver has been achieved without any governmental support. Instead, generous foundations, corporations, organizations, groups and individuals have provided the fi nancial energy we’ve needed to move forward.”

Always advocating for collaboration and cooperation, Hartman firmly believes: “Together, we ARE MAKING a difference!”