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Morgan’s Wonderland — fun for everyone, close to home
The carousel at Morgan’s Wonderland, the first park of its kind in the world, is wheelchair-accessible and includes specially designed seats for patrons who cannot sit on their own.
SAN ANTONIO -- If your family is trying to squeeze in one last bit of fun among the back-to-school preparations this August, a family-friendly day out could be as close as San Antonio, in the world’s first-ever fun park “... specifically designed for individuals with special needs” and their families and friends.
Morgan’s Wonderland opened to much fanfare two years ago, the brainchild of homebuilder Gordon Hartman, president and CEO of the Gordon Hartman Family Foundation.
“Unfortunately, countless children and adults with special needs do not have access to facilities that can help them fully enjoy outdoor recreation,” Hartman said in a press release at the time. “We truly hope Morgan’s Wonderland will ... change that.”
Inspiration for the park came from Hartman’s daughter, Morgan, whose personal challenges and soaring spirit spurred him to create somewhere for those with special needs and their families, caregivers, and others to relax and have fun. Individuals with cognitive and physical challenges have access to somewhere they can enjoy the outdoors without some of the impediments that can hamper their enjoyment of recreation elsewhere.
Visitors to Morgan’s Wonderland are greeted by a 25-foot-tall butterfly sculpture -- “Taking Flight” -- created by Doug Roper; it’s the largest cast-bronze sculpture in San Antonio. Kinetic sculptures by Jim LaPaso and sculptures of children by Randolph Rose adorn the park.
The nonprofit park’s season this year began March 2, with several new activities and special events and offers.
Morgan’s Wonderland has extended its support to military families and troops recovering from injuries sustained during service. This has included special receptions and open days, and military discounts. In addition, the park became the first-ever sponsor of an “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” construction of a home for Wilson County resident Shilo Harris, an Iraq war veteran, and his family.
Area families who have visited the park extol the accessibility for various ages and abilities, its proximity to home, and the family-friendly atmosphere.
Kate Wilson, a Floresville teacher, took her two sons to the park not long after it opened. Her oldest, Rusty, has been diagnosed with autism, but his younger brother, Billy, has no special needs.
“It is fabulous!” she said. “... The Sensory Village has to be seen to be believed. ... It is a safe place to play where parents of special-needs kiddos can actually let their kids be kids.”
A group of students of mixed ages from Floresville’s A+ Summer Camp who reunited earlier this year for a day out found fun for everyone. The kids ranged from pre-kindergarten to young teens, and everyone had fun, according to Sara Canady, owner/operator of A+ Summer Camp, presently serving as Wilson County justice of the peace, Pct.2.
One aspect of the park made a major impression on Canady: Safety for patrons. She said one of the most impressive uses of new technology is the GPS/bar-code wristband issued to each person entering the park; these, along with strategically placed computer kiosks, allowed group leaders to see where each member of their group was at all times.
“This was just an amazing thing to me as a director responsible for a large group of children, and an incredible security feature for the whole park,” Canady said.
The Sensory Village was a hit with her group, too. Younger children also had fun fishing in the 8-acre lake.
Canady said members of her group enjoyed the carousel, trying to “catch” digital butterflies, and play areas with traditional and adaptive swings, where the special-needs kids can “play side-by-side, sharing smiles and excitement,” she said. “I could sense that magical connection of friendship -- it happens when you’re having a blast with someone and you just can’t stop the giggly feeling. Morgan’s Wonderland was filled with more laughter than I’ve ever heard in one place!”
So, if you’re still trying to squeeze in a little fun for various ages and abilities, you may find a last bit of summer fun at Morgan’s Wonderland.
•Extended Learning Outreach program: Teachers can apply for field trip grants to take elementary-school students to the park to learn about math, science, and language arts.
•Senior Fridays: Special activities for senior adults, including fishing, ballroom dancing, card and board games, and other pastimes.
•Mom’s Coffee and Conversation Group: Moms can enjoy free coffee and visit together while the kids enjoy supervised play and activities.
•Special shows in the amphitheater; check website for events.
Fun in the park
Morgan’s Wonderland is fully wheelchair-accessible and features:
•Rides, including a carousel
•Water Works wet play area, including squirting pipes and water wheels
•Gardens and picnic area
•8-acre fishing lake
•Sensory Village: Interact with videos, go for a simulated test-drive through San Antonio and the Hill Country, create a power-tool symphony, and more.
•Off-road adventure ride on the park’s special track
•Wonderland Express: A 1930-style train depot is the departure point for the park’s own railway, with multiple cars with specially designed wheelchair-accessible ramps. The train runs around the park’s scenic lake.
Admission: Free for special-needs guests and children under 2; $10 for children up to age 10; adults pay only $15. Admission includes a free photo from your visit. Discounts for active-duty and retired military personnel, season passes, and discounted multi-ticket packages are available. Reservations can be made online for your visit.
Location: Intersection of Wurzbach Parkway and Thousand Oaks Drive in San Antonio.
Hours: Weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (closed Tuesday), Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information: Visit www.morganswonderland.com or call 210-495-5888.
Free to Soar Gala
What: Free to Soar Gala, an event to recognize folks who champion those with special needs
When: Saturday, Sept. 22
Where: Morgan’s Wonderland, Wurzbach Parkway, San Antonio
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