Gordon Hartman first made his name building homes for thousands of families in South Texas. But it’s the park he built for his daughter that is a tribute to his determination, and ability to dream big.
I was listening to Hartman today, as part of a lunch and preview tour for Morgan’s Wonderland, the first part of its kind built to be super-accessible to special needs children and adults. It’s named for Hartman’s daughter, Morgan, who faces both physical and cognitive challenges, but, as Hartman told us, “brings smiles, hugs, and love to everyone she encounters.”
The 25-acre-park features playscapes where two children on wheelchairs side-by side can head up the ramps to explore. On the “walk-and-roll” pathway around the park’s lake, sculptures catch the wind and provide a changing sound landscape for the vision-impaired. A quiet garden offers a place for children overwhelmed by the sensory experience to find their center again.
The park, nearly 4 years in the making, wasn’t just designed by architects and park planners. Hartman pulled together people from all walks of life, who knew about special-needs, and had them brainstorm. After the first meeting, they had eight pages of ideas.
The possibilities of the park drew General Manager Dave Force out of retirement. “I knew I would get to see first-times every single day,” he says. “The first-time a child in a wheelchair can go on a swing. The first time a wounded warrior can take his child up a playground ramp to the top of the slide. Before, maybe he’s always had to wait at the bottom. Now, he can be the one putting the child on the swing. He gets to let go.”
Another of those “firsts” is the carousel, set into the ground so it’s level for the wheelchair-bound to roll right on. But then, it wasn’t enough for those wheelchair-accessible spaces to just go in circles while the able-bodied riders went up and down. So Morgan’s Wonderland worked with the carousel maker to design the first wheelchair-accessible carousel chariots that are also on hydraulics. That way, the experience is the same regardless of physical limitations of the rider.
Those carousel rides are now offered in the carousel-maker’s catalog, ensuring the “firsts” extend far beyond Morgan’s Wonderland.
Seeing the park, listening to Hartman, it’s impossible not to feel inspired by his determination to make not just his daughter’s dream come true, but make the experience of Morgan’s Wonderland available to the thousands of other special needs children and adults who face limitations of a world not designed for them.
Morgan’s Wonderland opens to the public next week. Admission is free to those with special needs. Caregivers and family members pay just $5. If you want to visit, you must make reservations through the website. And to keep costs low, the park also runs on a lot of volunteer power. You can sign up for that at the website, too.