An amusement park for special needs kids: Morgan’s Wonderland
In 2006, San Antonio philanthropist Gordon Hartman watched his daughter Morgan, a child with special needs, and a group of other children splashing in a hotel swimming pool. Morgan looked like she wanted to take part in the fun, and the others exhibited interest in interacting with Morgan… but the connection never materialized.
That moment got Hartman thinking about how wonderful it would be to create an environment for inclusion and understanding — an oasis for those needing a safe place to relax and enjoy the outdoors and each other.
Hartman soon learned that millions of children and adults with cognitive and physical challenges generally do not have access to facilities specifically established to assist them in enjoying the fun outdoor activities that able-bodied individuals have access to and often take for granted.
What if everyone were free to “soar” beyond their perceived limitations?
Thus, Morgan’s Wonderland, the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park, began with a desire to re-imagine the possibilities of what an inclusive park could be. It evolved into a safe, colorful, 25-acre park that serves as a haven not only for those with special needs but also for their families, friends, caregivers and the public at large. Morgan’s Wonderland is a place where “kids” of all ages and abilities can have fun, and from the very beginning, it has admitted anyone with a physical or cognitive challenge free of charge.
“Non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland is the very first park of its kind, because it was designed with special-needs individuals in mind, but built for everyone to enjoy,” said Hartman, CEO of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation.
“Inclusion is the overarching objective,” Hartman says. “Everyone can have a good time at Morgan’s Wonderland.”
About the amusement park for special needs kids
The park, which is completely wheelchair-accessible, features more than 25 attractions including rides, playgrounds and gardens. It’s part of a larger 106-acre sports venue to encourage inclusive recreation whereby individuals of all abilities can play side-by-side.
“Morgan’s Wonderland is the center of a family fun destination we call Wonderland, Texas,” Morander said. “Our ‘community’ also includes the new, 8,000-seat home of the San Antonio Scorpions FC pro soccer team and the STAR (South Texas Area Regional) Soccer Complex.”
While other theme parks accommodate people with disabilities and/or special needs, Morgan’s Wonderland was created with them in mind.
This unique park was created to enable everyone to come together and have fun, regardless of their abilities. “However, instead of building a park and then making accommodations for individuals with special needs, Morgan’s Wonderland team began by identifying what obstacles and barriers occur within the special-needs community, and then designed the park to help individuals with special needs overcome those challenges and be able to have fun like those without limitations.”
Some of the park attractions
The Sensory Village: A cluster of unique and interactive themed spaces that inspire imaginative play and unique sensory adventures. The Paramount Theater offers interactive videos. The Saddle-Up Stable holds two Equicizer (mechanical) Horses. The Fix-It Shop lets guests create a tool sounding symphony, design a custom car, and go for a simulated test drive through San Antonio and the surrounding Hill Country. The Village Market grocery store is full of fun colorful groceries, perfect for imaginative play, and KMWL7 TV station allows guests to do the weather forecast and see themselves on TV!
Butterfly Playground: A brightly colored butterfly-themed play area is filled with lively activity. The play area is shaded and has a rubberized surface for comfort and safety.
Off-Road Adventure Ride: Hop on or wheel into an off-road vehicle and cruise around the twisting, turning Morgan’s Wonderland track.
Carousel: Visitors young and old, regardless of ability to play, can experience the huge, whimsical merry-go-round.
Music Garden: The sound of bells and chimes fill the air of Morgan’s Wonderland thanks to the outdoor Music Garden.
The Wharf: “Drop anchor” at the rustic Fishing Wharf for an afternoon of fishing
Pirate Island Playground & Garden: Cross a bridge and get ready to explore an island of fantasy and fun.
In addition to Morgan’s Wonderland, the Scorpions and Toyota Field, The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation provided the impetus for nearby STAR (South Texas Area Regional) Soccer, featuring 13 lighted fields for tournament and league play, and Monarch Academy, a school for students with special needs that opened next to Morgan’s Wonderland in August 2011.
The next-door STAR Soccer Complex offers 13 lighted soccer fields for tournaments, instructional clinics and special events. Just as is the case with the San Antonio Scorpions pro soccer team, proceeds from STAR Soccer go to support the operation and maintenance of Morgan’s Wonderland. Another park spinoff is Monarch Academy, a school for students with special needs that opened next to Morgan’s Wonderland in August 2011.
To provide non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland with a steady revenue stream for expansion of programs and services, the Scorpions are battling North American Soccer League rivals at Toyota Field, just across from the theme park’s main entrance. All Toyota Field and Scorpions net profits are earmarked for Morgan’s Wonderland. This is the first time a professional sports team has been organized to benefit the special-needs community. (More information is available at SanAntonioScorpions.com.)
Find out more
The 25-acre park offers discounts for active-duty and retired military personnel, senior adults and children, plus season passes and discounted multi-ticket packages. Admission for those with special needs is always free of charge, while admission fees for accompanying family members, friends, caregivers and the general public are nominal. Children age 2 and younger are also admitted free of charge.
The latest information about the park’s operating schedule and special events is always available at MorgansWonderland.com, or by calling (210) 495-5888 or toll-free (877) 495-5888.
“We’re now in our fifth year of operation, and thus far we’ve welcomed more than a half-million guests from all over America and around the world,” says Morander. “Our vision is to play an instrumental role in helping establish more ultra-accessible family fun parks throughout the nation and the world. Already we’ve received expressions of interests from more than 20 cities globally.”