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Meet the Man Who Created a Theme Park for People with Special Needs

Gordon Hartman is the founder of Morgan’s Wonderland (shown above on right, photo credit: Morganswonderland/Facebook.com). It’s a 25-acre theme park in San Antonio, TX, with a twist. It operates as a non-profit because the 25 rides you’ll find here are accessible to those with disabilities.  Or, as Hartman calls it, ultra-accessible™.

A view of Morgans Wonderland. Photo Credit: Facebook.com

Hartman has always followed an entrepreneurial spirit. He started a landscaping business when he was 15, bringing in enough money to start a home-building company before age 20.

At 23, Hartman owned a land development company. That business became the largest enterprise of its type in the city, leading him to be inducted into the local halls of fame for sports and business. It makes for a good story, but it gets even better.

He and his wife sold the company in 2005 to establish a foundation that lets children and adults pursue their dreams, even when cognitive or special needs are present. Morgan’s Wonderland was designed in 2010 and opened its doors in 2017. [[1]]

It Started with a Family Vacation

Hartman and his family were on vacation in 2006. He observed his daughter wanting to play with two other vacationing children at a hotel swimming pool. Still, they didn’t want to interact with her while tossing a ball around because of her physical and cognitive special needs.

“I’ve made hundreds of speeches about why philanthropy is important,” said Hartman. “It’s not just about giving money. Those who are less fortunate also need time donations. I’ve found that donating my expertise to non-profit organizations allows them to grow and thrive, and that is gratifying.”

Hartman signed The Giving Pledge as part of this transformation, promising publicly that he’d give away his wealth. [[2]]

“The cost of caring for a child or adult with special needs is staggering,” Hartman said. “This segment of society is largely overlooked, marginalized, and has no voice. Our mission is to make their world a little easier to navigate and enjoy – and to be their advocate.”

Morgan’s Wonderland Supports Numerous Diagnoses

You can’t miss the Whirling Wonder when arriving at Morgan’s Wonderland. This colorful Ferris wheel takes visitors high enough into the air to deliver a panoramic view of the park without being scary for most riders. It stands 5.5 stories tall, which makes it visible from the interstate. A dozen gondolas accommodate children and adults with wheelchairs. [[3]]

There’s an eight-acre lake at the theme park that visitors can tour by riding the Wonderland Express™. It carries multiple railcars equipped with wheelchair-accessible ramps.

The train is designed to accommodate even powered wheelchairs, taking visitors around the park for a fun ride.

Then there is the unique Sensory Village™ at Morgan’s Wonderland. This stop creates a community built on creative play and imagination. It’s an indoor area where five themed regions are available to explore, encouraging hands-on learning with a mindful design that encourages everyone to be curious and interact as they are comfortable.

The current Sensory Village includes a grocery store, an exploration station, and an interactive shadow room. Visitors can enjoy exploring a television newsroom or the Microsoft Experience, which features adaptable Xbox consoles and accessible technology.

“We need to close the gap between the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy, and those with and without special needs,” said Hartman. “The private sector can step up more aggressively and address these inequities through better education, health care, and living conditions.”

Camping and Sports Are Part of the Morgan’s Wonderland Experience

Since the theme park's opening, the Hartmans have added two different properties to this experience. The first is a fully inclusive sports complex that focuses on fun, fitness, and competition for athletes of any ability, while the second is a 102-acre campground on the northern outskirts of San Antonio.

A 16,000-square-foot assistance facility near Morgan’s Wonderland opened in 2022, creating space for several services and organizations. [[4]]

“People come up to me all the time and say that they love my park,” said Hartman. “I tell them no – this isn’t my park. It’s everyone’s park.”

Hartman’s team consults with doctors and therapists to ensure each activity at one of their properties is inclusive. That proactive approach ensures that visitors can play and enjoy themselves in whatever way they prefer without being unsafe. Hartman says their zip line is an excellent example of this design, which takes visitors up 11 stories – even if they’re in a wheelchair or have a breathing apparatus. [[5]]

“People have come from all 50 states and 121 different countries,” said Hartman. “I never anticipated the numbers we would have. That’s the culture here. It gives people an opportunity to do the things they never thought they could do.”

All ages and all abilities are welcome in the environment of inclusion. More information about Morgan’s Wonderland is available at https://morganswonderland.com.

 

References:

[[1]] https://original.newsbreak.com/@ash-jurberg-560946/2856828116526-the-san-antonio-man-giving-away-millions [[2]] https://givingpledge.org/pledger?pledgerId=407 [[3]] https://www.sanantoniomag.com/gordon-hartman/ [[4]] https://www.bizjournals.com/sanantonio/news/2022/10/03/hartman-multi-assistance-center-morgans-wonderland.html [[5]] https://videos.aarp.org/detail/video/6310125079112/father-opens-a-theme-park-for-daughter-with-disabilities

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