The caption from this four-minute NYTimes.com video reads: “What happens when children of all different abilities get to play with each other? We take you inside a first-of-its-kind ultra accessible water park, which is changing the way families spend time together.”
Last week I had the great privilege of attending the Family Travel Summit in Bermuda. Not only was Bermuda a jaw-dropping destination to hold a conference in, but the final keynote was even more amazing. Listening to Gordon Hartman speak about his life’s path was inspirational to say the least. Gordon sold his successful home building business back in 2005 at 41 but didn’t want to retire. He and his wife Maggie had an 11-year-old (now 24) daughter named Morgan who deals with cognitive and physical challenges.
Gordon noticed while on vacation that Morgan wanted to play with kids tossing a ball in a hotel swimming pool, but when she approached them, they quickly took their ball and got out of the pool. Gordon says he’ll never forget the look of anguish and dismay on his daughter’s face, and so at that moment he decided that there had to be a way to bridge the gap of misunderstanding about people with special needs. According to Gordon and Wikipedia, “That incident was the tipping point for Morgan’s Wonderland and ultimately Morgan’s Inspiration Island.”
In 2010, he opened Morgan’s Wonderland as a 25-acre non-profit theme park in San Antonio, Texas, for guests of all ages and abilities. The ultra-accessible park is the first theme park of its kind in the world, and it’s welcomed more than 1.8 million guests from all 50 states and 73 other countries. Gordon shared with us that 12% of the U.S. population has some sort of special need (which means tens of millions people in the U.S. alone).
As written on Wikipedia, “The $34 million park features more than 25 elements and attractions including rides, playgrounds, gardens, an eight-acre catch-and-release fishing lake, 18,000-square-foot special-event center, 575-seat amphitheater, picnic area and rest areas throughout the park.” The park is completely wheelchair-accessible but only one in four guests that attend have a disability. Gordon stressed that it’s not a special needs park. It’s a park of inclusion. And for those with special needs there’s no entry fee, and for others it’s nominal. Gordon told us that there’s no test at the door, so if someone says they have a special need, they get in free—because if they’re lying about that, they really do have a special need.
Morgan’s Wonderland is so impressive that Time rated Morgan’s Inspirational Island this year as one of “The World’s Greatest Places.” The biggest challenge, Gordon said in the keynote, was trying to find a replacement for battery, electric-operated wheelchairs and those with breathing machines attached. Obviously, they can’t get wet, so his team created a wheelchair using compressed air. He says they’re now working on building a camp with a lazy river, bike trails and zipline. The latter is a challenge because they need to figure out technically how they can get everyone up on a zipline. It’s a story worth monitoring.
Good to know: The parks (Morgan’s Wonderland and all of Morgan’s Inspirational Island) are closed in January and February.