Dad creates $32M theme park for his beloved daughter with special needs
A Texas dad opened an amusement park for his daughter with special needs after realizing that other theme parks in the area just didn't suit her.
Gordon Hartman began building the $15 million theme park, "Morgan's Wonderland," in 2007.
The park is named after his daughter Morgan, who has a severe cognitive and physical delay as well as a form of autism.
The park opened in 2010.
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"It feels fantastic because we get to see people who are not given the opportunity to [experience] the type of rides we have, get on a carousel, get on a train easily, fishing... All these things they're not allowed to do because of their cognitive or physical situation," Hartman told InsideEdition.com.
The 25-acre park, which is located in San Antonio and has 26 different activities, features a wheelchair-accessible Ferris wheel and carousel, as well as a miniature train.
Hartman said he came up with the idea in 2006 when he visited a swimming pool with Morgan. His daughter, who was then 12, attempted to play with some kids in the pool, but instead of engaging with her, they quickly left the pool.
"[Morgan] looked around and gave me that look of, 'I don't understand,'" Hartman said. "I jumped back in and we played for a while. All Morgan wanted to do was ask for interaction with the kids."
The loving dad began thinking of places he could take Morgan. He thought of Disney, but knew parks of that nature were too noisy and crowded for her.
"What we found was there was no place we could find that's an ultra-accessible fully-inclusive park," Hartman said.
So the dad decided to build the world's first "ultra-accessible theme park." Having already started a non-profit foundation for children with special needs in 2005, The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, Hartman knew how important it was to have something like the park for kids like his daughter.
"The beauty of Morgan's Wonderland is we slowly adapted her into the rides because it's that kind of place," Hartman said.
The park has received visitors, with and without special needs, from 67 countries.
More recently, they added a water park to the place, Morgan's Inspirational Island. It opened seven weeks ago.
The waterpark, which cost another $17 million dollars to build, uses warm water in some of its areas to help visitors with muscular problems. Waterproof, motorized wheelchairs are also provided for those who need them.
"When we opened this, we didn't know if it was going to work," Hartman said. "We knew we were gambling with a $35 million investment. All we wanted to do was bring people who have special needs and people who don't have special needs together and play."
And that is what they have done. The park is free for those with special needs, but Hartman stresses they are not a special needs park, but a park of inclusion.
"To see the smiles and see the stories and listen to the stories of first time ever, that's incredible. I can't even give you words that describe what that feels like," Hartman said. Not only is it great for the special needs individual and their families... but also, the beauty of this is that it allows children who do not have special needs to engage with individuals with special needs."
Additional reporting by Elissa Candiotti