On 25 acres in Northeast San Antonio lies the world’s first theme park designed with individuals with special needs in mind. Morgan’s Wonderland, inspired by the daughter of philanthropist Gordon Hartman, has welcomed more than 200,000 guests from all 50 states and 35 other countries in less than two years.
“We’ve taken an abandoned rock quarry and transformed it into an outdoor recreational oasis,” says Hartman, CEO of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation. “Unfortunately, countless children and adults with special needs do not have access to facilities that can help them fully enjoy outdoor recreation.” Morgan’s Wonderland has changed that.
In Spring 2012, the San Antonio Scorpions, a North American Soccer League team, will begin to play at Morgan’s Wonderland. Hartman notes that this is the first time a professional sports team has been organized to benefit the special needs community. The Scorpions’ profits will provide non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland with a steady revenue stream for expansion of programs and services.
Since its grand opening in April 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland has featured more than 25 elements and attractions, including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre fishing lake, an 18,000 square foot special event center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas throughout the park. Signature touches include rides that can accommodate guests in wheelchairs, Braille signage, and the Sand Circle™ play area where children and adults in wheelchairs can scoop up sand and play on swings. There is also the Sensory Village™, a cluster of themed spaces such as an auto fix-it shop, grocery store and TV station that offer sensory stimulation through colors, lights, sounds, and textures.
One of the most unique features of the park is the wristband given to each guest as he or she arrives. These are radio frequency identification (RFID) wristbands that guard against a child getting lost. By simply scanning the wristband at one of many “location station” monitors throughout the park, a member of a group can immediately locate others in their group if they become separated. The RFID wristbands also give peace of mind to family members of individuals with special needs in cases where they are prone to wander.
Hartman credits his daughter, Morgan, now 18 years old, with sparking his desire to create a haven not only for those with special needs but also for their families, caregivers and friends. Morgan, who lives with significant cognitive and physical challenges, fervently hopes that everyone with special needs will be touched in a very special way by this park. “Inclusion is the overarching objective for Morgan’s Wonderland,” Hartman explains. “Our vision is to play an instrumental role in helping establish more ultra-accessible family fun parks throughout the nation and the world.”