Terry Park in Heath will be the site of a proposed all-inclusive park designed to ensure that every person, with or without special needs, has a place to enjoy a good time with their friends and family.
The park, named Marsha’s Happy Haven, will incorporate tons of features and equipment created specifically with special needs individuals in mind, set on a half-acre tract of land against the beautiful backdrop of Lake Ray Hubbard. Design schematics for the park show upwards of 51 pieces of equipment for kids with and without special needs, including multiple slides, on and off ramps, climbing elements, musical equipment, perimeter sand and roller board tables, and much more. The park will also be wheelchair accessible, and will have numerous benches and seat walls throughout for adults to rest while supervising their kiddos.
Designing the proposed park is none other than Robert Luna of Luna Middleman Architects, the man behind San Antonio’s all-inclusive theme park called Morgan’s Wonderland. The park is named for former property developer Gordon Hartman’s daughter Morgan, who has a form of autism. Hartman decided to build what’s known as “the world’s first ultra-accessible theme park” because he wanted a place where Morgan could play with other children with or without special needs. The $34 million park opened in 2010 and includes one-of-a-kind features such as a fully accessible Ferris Wheel, a carousel with specially designed chariots for those in wheelchairs, and a water park that uses warm water in some parts for those with muscular issues.
Marsha’s Happy Haven has been a vision for many in the Heath, including Ginny Jackson, who has spearheaded the effort to bring the park to the community. The park is named after a woman who was born with Spina Bifida and had been confined to a wheelchair for most of her life.
“I’ll never forget the day I first met Marsha,” Jackson said. “It was after church, and when they wheeled her into the sanctuary, I thought, here is a child, same age as my daughter, confined. That never left me. And that’s why this park is named after Marsha.
“Marsha was only supposed to live until age 20; she lived to 43. And what she was able to accomplish in those years was amazing! She went to college, she traveled, she worked for a radio station in Dallas. She went everywhere, she traveled the world and made many contributions.”
After Jackson and her husband, Ken, went on a tour of Morgan’s Wonderland with Luna, she knew a park like that would be extremely beneficial to many children in Heath – albeit on a smaller scale.
“When we left after the tour, we realized that we understood his mission, and that he understood our desire for a smaller park here in Heath. We knew it could not be an amusement park at this point in time, but that there had to be something that would fit,” Jackson said.
One afternoon following the tour, Jackson was looking out the window of her lakeside home in Heath when it dawned on her – the ideal place for an all-abilities park.
“I thought, Terry Park, that’s where it needs to be,” Jackson said. “Everything’s already there, it’s on the water. We don’t have to do a lot of infrastructure as far as trails and sea walls and all that. It’s all there.”
Jackson and Luna met with several families and caregivers in the area about an all-inclusive park at Terry Park, and many were ecstatic about the idea and the location. Taking their excitement as confirmation that she was on the right track, Jackson and Luna then presented their plans to the Park Board.
On Aug. 19, 2019, the Park Board voted unanimously to recommend the dedication of 0.54 acres at Terry Park for the construction of Marsha’s Happy Haven, with two exceptions: funding for the construction of the park – estimated to total a little more than $1 million – would be raised within three years of dedication, or the land dedication would become void; and any design concerns would be addressed and rectified in tandem with Luna. Additionally, the Park Board voted unanimously to be the advisory committee for the project under their current purview over parks and trails matters. On Aug. 27, the city council approved the dedication of the land with the two exceptions recommended by the Park Board.
To help spread the word about the park, Jackson set up a table at the Heath Farmers Market giving folks the opportunity to learn more about it and make in-kind donations. Jackson said they received a ton of support from the community about the park during the event.
“It’s been an amazing partnership with the City and the community,” Jackson said. “Every staff member, every city councilman and every Park Board member has been so on board with this park. We’ve talked to mothers’ groups and several businesses in Heath and they’re all on board with it as well. It’s going to be everybody across the community that’s going to help build this park.”
By Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News. Courtesy photos.
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