A special destination for special kids

North Texas children look forward to visiting Morgan’s Wonderland

Photo courtesy of Morgan's Wonderland

Your donations will help provide an experience of a lifetime for local special needs families

(March 2, 2013) The world’s first ultra-accessible theme park for those with special needs opened in early 2010. School buses line the main entrance of Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio. Other buses are chartered, bringing students from more distant schools, including Luna Elementary in Garland.

Photo submitted by Renee Padden.

Renee Padden is a Special Education teacher at Luna. The students in her A.L.E. class (Applied Learning Environment) have a variety of health issues including Down syndrome, autism, speech impairments and intellectual disabilities. She says the spring trip her class has taken to Morgan’s Wonderland since 2011 has been a life-changing experience for her students and their parents.

Morgan's Wonderland at dusk. Photo courtesy of Morgan's Wonderland.

The unique park is the brainchild of Gordon Hartman, a well-known former homebuilder inSan Antonio. His daughter Morgan was his inspiration. Morgan, now a young adult, was born with special needs—both cognitive and physical.

The theme park is a wonderland indeed for those who’ve never been able to enjoy such an adventure. Amazed visitors enter the park on brightly-colored avenues. No signs direct special-needs guests to a specific area of the park to accommodate their disabilities. It’s all for them.

Photo submitted by Renee Padden

A park train includes wheelchair-accessible ramps for a ride around an 8-acre lagoon—which offers catch-and-release fishing and remote-controlled boats. There’s also a carousel with wheelchair chariots. Those in wheelchairs can have an off-road adventure too with the help of loading ramps that swing out to scoop up kids or adults. Park staff and volunteers assist guests to ensure comfort and safety.

In addition to amusement rides, plenty of barrier-free fun can be found. Traditional swings welcome everyone, especially those who’ve never soared into the air. A Sensory Village encourages interaction through color, light, sound and texture.

Photo courtesy of Morgan's Wonderland.

Shaded areas abound in the park. Beautifully landscaped picnic areas have relaxing piped-in music. Visitors often have special diets—not a problem. Guests can bring their own food and coolers along. Concessions are available as well, but no vendors hawk food or anything else inside of Morgan’s Wonderland. Gordon Hartman says the park is about service, not selling.

Admission prices won’t keep anyone from visiting Morgan’s Wonderland.  Special needs individuals are admitted free. Entry fees for family members and friends are very reasonable. Park expenses are defrayed through the support of profits from the STAR Soccer Complex—also built by Hartman—adjacent to the theme park.

The low prices enable special-needs guests to come as often as they wish. But getting there can be expensive for their families.

Renee Padden says it’s a big undertaking—and a huge cost—to travel to south Texas with her students. The trip requires a wheelchair-accessible chartered bus and a two-night hotel stay. The students must each have one parent travel with them. The first-to-fifth-graders (about 21 this year) also need a couple of teachers and another aide or therapist along.

Photo submitted by Renee Padden.

“The looks on their faces makes everything worthwhile,” Padden says. “Morgan’s Wonderland has unlocked a whole new world for each student.”

The cost of the trip is formidable to parents who already spend so much for health-related needs. Luna Elementary is also a Title 1 school (students live in Sachse and Rowlett in addition to Garland). Many parents could never afford the trip. The school has fundraisers including a silent auction and cookie sales from a rented Otis Spunkmeyer cookie machine. But it takes a lot of cookies to raise the $8,000-plus needed for the trip.

For donations to help send some special North Texas kids to Morgan’s Wonderland in April, visit http://gofundme.com/lunaelementary, or contact Renee Padden, or through Luna Elementary at 972-675-3040.

By Blue Ribbon News special contributor Patti Richter of Heath.