In the Summer, many families make plans to go on vacation. Theme parks are a popular option for a Summer holiday, but for some families with special needs kids, that's not a viable option. One Texas man has changed that though.
Morgan's Wonderland is a fully-accessible place where people of all abilities are able to participate in the joy of attending a theme park. The park is built on 25 acres of an abandoned rock quarry in Northeast San Antonio. Admission is even free for special needs guests. This is the first park of its kind in Texas, and has hosted visitors from all over the U.S. and from 65 countries worldwide. But it wasn't always like this.
Hartman first got the idea for the park in 2005 when he witnessed his daughter Morgan interacting with kids at a pool. Morgan has cognitive developmental delays and is on the Autism spectrum. The kids Morgan was playing with became uncomfortable and left quickly. It broke his heart to see this, so Hartman wanted to bring his daughter to a place where people would accept her.
"Morgan is just a wonderful young lady," Hartman told the BBC. "When you meet her you will always get a smile and she will always want to offer a hug. But there were so many times we couldn't take her places."
The Hartman family lives in San Antonio, which is a tourist destination in Texas. The Riverwalk, Sea World, and Fiesta Texas are popular places for families. There is also the Alamo, the Market Square and the San Antonio Zoo. However, when Hartman and his wife began asking other special needs parents about an inclusive, accessible place for kids like Morgan, they realized it didn't exist.
The old adage "If you want something done, do it yourself" is a principle that Hartman is no stranger to. He started his first landscaping business at age 15. At age 19 he opened a home building service that morphed into a land development company only four years later. So when he saw the need for a fully-accessible theme park, he dove right in.
Hartman began work on the park that would eventually become Morgan's Wonderland in 2007. It opened three years later in 2010 and cost $34 million. Visitors to the park are treated to a multitude of fully-accessible attractions. The carousel, for example, features uniquely designed chariots that go up and down. That way guests in wheelchairs can have a fun experience just like everyone else.
The Sensory Village and the Music Garden also cater to people of differing abilities both physical and cognitive.
This year Hartman expanded the park to include the nation's first accessible water park, called Morgan's Inspiration Island. The project cost roughly $17 million.
"Fewer people were visiting in July because the wheelchairs got too hot," Hartman told the BBC. "So we decided to create a water park next door."
Air-powered, waterproof wheelchairs are available at Morgan's Inspiration Island. Some areas of the park feature warmer water for visitors who have muscular issues.
Morgan is 23 now, but still enjoys the swings and the sand zone in the park.
Hartman says the park loses roughly $1 million per year to stay.