Plato philosophized that "the most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things." Many would argue that watching children at play--observing them carefree and engaged in the playground interactions that build the skills for a well-adjusted adult--is in itself amongst the loveliest of things. But for children with physical and intellectual disabilities, opportunities for play, especially outdoor play, are often not easily found. In fact, it is estimated that less than 10 percent of those with disabilities engage in play activities out of doors. But all of that is about to change on a 21-acre spread in San Antonio where a play space like no other is rising from an old quarry site in the bustling, northeastern corner of the city just off of Interstate 35. Coined Morgan's Wonderland, the play area hopes to blaze a trail for the establishment of other such accessible recreation facilities across the United States and abroad.
One look at the site map (see site map on page 26) confirms the wide array of park offerings and the attention to detail in making the park fully accessible, regardless of a visitor's mobility and other challenges. Amenities include a wheel chair accessible amphitheater for live concerts and programs; a five-themed sensory village; a water play area, with directional hoses and spray nozzles that guarantee water-themed fun while keeping the kids (and wheelchairs) dry; a wheelchair-accessible sand spiral; a race track with adaptive go-carts; and three playscapes with a variety of specially-designed swings, ramps, and interactive equipment. An accessible train will chug around the perimeter of the scenic, eight-acre lake, which comes complete with an accessible fishing pier where kids can practice their catch-and-release angling skills. Also impressive is the 17,000 square foot Special Event Center and Gymnasium that will feature an all-purpose court for wheelchair basketball, volleyball, and tennis and which, for a nominal fee, will be available for non-profits to rent for special events. Landscaping will be lush, yet accessible. Taking into account the sun and heat sensitivities that some with disabilities experience, a host of pavilions, other shaded areas, misters, as well as air-conditioned areas will dot the park at various locations. Families and caregivers of children with special needs recognize the ultra-importance of numerous, well-placed and well-equipped restroom facilities. This simple detail can often mean the success or failure of a day's outing. Park planners knew this and designed Morgan's Wonderland with 18 restrooms, all ADA-compliant, air conditioned and heated, and many are roomy family restrooms with diaper-changing areas. One restroom facility even has a shower and clean up area.
Morgan's Wonderland is named after Morgan Hartman, 15, an outgoing teen who is challenged with physical and cognitive disabilities. The idea for the recreation area was hatched in 2007 by her parents, Gordon and Maggie Hartman, who put up the first $1,000,000 of seed money to get the project off the ground. That has been bolstered by significant funds from the city of San Antonio and Bexar County as well as gifts from other corporate and individual donors. Additional fundraising will be done to top off the total needed to complete the park and to fund its ongoing overhead.
In 2005, the Hartmans founded The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation (GHFF) as a way of helping children and adults in the San Antonio area who are challenged with special needs by offering resources to the nonprofits in the area who serve them. This takes the form of outright grants as well as consulting services on internal and financial management, program development, and future growth planning. In 2007 as plans for Morgan's Wonderland were firming up as a portion of the total 106-acre outdoor recreation site that will also hold the area's 77-acre regional soccer complex, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called SOAR (Sports Outdoor And Recreation) was launched to serve as fiduciary for Morgan's Wonderland. …