Morgan’s Wonderland – the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park specifically designed with special-needs individuals of all ages in mind but built for everyone to enjoy – continues to generate incredibly positive feedback from those with and without physical or cognitive challenges.
“Non-profit Morgan’s Wonderland is the very first park of its kind,” said philanthropist Gordon Hartman, CEO of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, “so it’s been gratifying indeed to welcome more than 200,000 guests from all 50 states and more than 30 other countries in just two years of operation. We’re eagerly anticipating the start of our 2012 season Friday, March 2.”
Encompassing 25 acres in Northeast San Antonio, unique and colorful Morgan’s Wonderland is completely wheelchair accessible. It offers a variety of attractions including rides and playgrounds. Admission for those with special needs is free; admission fees for accompanying family members, friends, caregivers and the general public are nominal.
Military discounts, season passes and discounted multi-ticket packages are among new additions for 2012. The latest information on admissions, operating days and hours of operation can be found at www.MorgansWonderland.com.
In addition, the park now offers an Extended Learning Outreach program in which teachers can apply for field trip grants so their elementary-school students can spend a day of learning in the park in areas such as math, science and language arts.
Furthermore, Morgan’s Wonderland will be the scene of Senior Fridays, special activities for senior adults featuring fishing, ballroom dancing, card and board games, exercise classes and other popular pastimes. And, on specified days, the Mom’s Coffee and Conservation Group will meet for free coffee and conversation while their kids enjoy supervised play and activities.
In December, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is scheduled to air a two-hour, ABC-TV special that documents the recent construction of a home for a wounded warrior coordinated by Morgan’s Wonderland. It was the first time in the popular TV show’s nine seasons that a non-profit was tapped to serve as general contractor.
“Morgan’s Wonderland is a special place where anyone can have fun,” Hartman said, “but it was created with special-needs individuals in mind. We’ve taken an abandoned rock quarry and transformed it into an outdoor recreation oasis. Unfortunately, countless children and adults with special needs do not have access to facilities that can help them fully enjoy outdoor recreation. We truly hope Morgan’s Wonderland will begin to change that.”
To provide Morgan’s Wonderland with a steady revenue stream for expansion of programs and services, Hartman has secured a North American Soccer League team – the San Antonio Scorpions FC – that will begin play in April. All Scorpions profits will be earmarked for Morgan’s Wonderland. This is the first time a professional sports team has been organized to benefit the special-needs community, he noted. More information is available at www.SanAntonioScorpions.com.
The inspiration for Morgan’s Wonderland came from Hartman’s 18-year-old daughter Morgan. Her soaring spirit despite personal challenges sparked within Hartman a deep desire to create a haven not only for those with special needs but also for their families, caregivers and invited friends. “Inclusion is the overarching objective for Morgan’s Wonderland,” he explained. “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.”
Morgan’s Wonderland opened March 3, 2010, and celebrated its grand opening April 10, 2010, with NBA legend David Robinson and actress Eva Longoria as special guests. It features more than 25 elements and attractions including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre fishing lake, 18,000-square-foot special-event center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas throughout the park.
Signature elements include rides that can accommodate wheelchair-bound guests; 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; and the Sand Circle™ play area, where even kids and adults in wheelchairs can scoop up sand and be part of the fun. In contrast, the nearby Garden Sanctuary offers a quiet retreat in the heart of the park, and its semicircular Memorial Wall is engraved with names of loved ones with special needs who have passed away.
Other park features include Braille signage, a 3-D park model, 18 restrooms to accommodate special-needs individuals, a first-aid station, vending machines and seven acres of free parking. The Picnic Place is available for those who wish to bring their own food to the park, and the special-event center as well as pavilions can be reserved for birthday parties, family gatherings, fundraisers and other special events.
“As our guests arrive, they’re assigned special RFID (radio frequency identification) wristbands,” Hartman said. “Location station monitors are situated throughout the park. By simply scanning his or her wristband, a member of a group can quickly locate others in the group if they become separated. The wristbands not only provide comfort and security against a child getting lost, but they also help guard against the possibility of a child leaving with a stranger or leaving the park alone.”
In 2007, The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation was instrumental in the creation of SOAR (Sports Outdoor And Recreation), a non-profit organization to raise funds for building Morgan’s Wonderland. Construction on the $34 million park began in spring 2009.
Morgan’s Wonderland is part of a larger 106-acre sports venue to encourage inclusive recreation whereby individuals of all abilities can play side-by-side. The next-door STAR (South Texas Area Regional) 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.
Morgan’s Wonderland is located just off IH 35 at the intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive. For more information, visit www.MorgansWonderland.com.