Splashy Fun For Everyone
By Ron Morander
“Where Everyone Can Play”
That’s been the succinct-yet-impactful motto of Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas, since opening in 2010, in what once was a rock quarry. The theme park has welcomed more than a million guests from all 50 states and 67 other countries. Recently, it added another reason to visit—Morgan’s Inspiration Island, the world’s first ultra-accessible splash park where guests of all ages and abilities can get wet and have fun together.
Like Morgan’s Wonderland, Morgan’s Inspiration Island is not a special-needs park; it’s a park of inclusion. In addition, the non-profit Wonderland admits anyone with a physical or cognitive special need free of charge, and the same policy is in effect at Inspiration Island.
The goal is to provide a great guest experience in a safe, comfortable, not-overly-crowded environment. When the Wonderland opened, there was a little uncertainty about what to expect in terms of acceptance and attendance, but the park’s popularity grew tremendously and encouraged the addition of Inspiration Island.
The Lay Of The Land
Inspiration Island overlooks the Wonderland 8-acre catch-and-release fishing lake. The splash park’s focal point is a seven-story lighthouse with a rotating beacon that can be easily seen from busy Interstate 35 a half-mile away. Six major elements comprise the $17-million, tropically themed island paradise, inspired by founder Gordon Hartman and his wife, Maggie’s, 24-year-old daughter with special needs, Morgan. The decision to call it Morgan’s Inspiration Island was easy because Morgan truly has been the catalyst for every project of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation since 2005 to help the special-needs community.
Five water play areas—Hang 10 Harbor, Rainbow Reef, Shipwreck Island, Harvey’s Hideaway Bay, and Calypso Cove—offer a variety of get-soaking-wet elements such as raintrees, falls, pools, geysers, jets, water cannons, and tipping buckets, while the River Boat Adventure ride twists and turns for more than five minutes through a jungle setting with animatronic animals and sound effects.
Support facilities include the Rusty Anchor Galley Grub and Little Italy Bistro food outlets for snacks and beverages; the Surf Shack Gifts and Gear sundries shop, which offers items such as sunscreen and souvenirs; a panoramic viewing deck; the Lago Vista air-conditioned party/meeting room; and private cabanas for rent.
A Man With A Plan
To create Morgan’s Inspiration Island, Gordon Hartman had the same vision as at Morgan’s Wonderland: He pulled together a team of passionate people that included doctors, therapists, special-ed teachers, caregivers, and parents of special-needs children to brainstorm as to what would constitute ultra-accessibility. Thus, anyone with a cognitive or physical disability would be able to do just as much and have just as much fun as individuals without special needs in a barrier-free, non-judgmental oasis of inclusion.
Adaptations For Guests
Waterproof wheelchairs top the list of adaptations, making the splash park ultra-accessible. Owners and employees collaborated with the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh to develop the PneuChair, a revolutionary waterproof wheelchair powered by compressed air. Guests in expensive battery-powered wheelchairs with electronic components can’t afford to get their chairs wet, but the PneuChair and two other waterproof wheelchair designs—a push-stroller type for guests needing assistance from a caregiver for mobility, and a rigid wheelchair for guests who can self-propel—allow the guests to splash and play with everyone. The first PneuChairs to go into service are prototypes that are already undergoing significant improvements.
To facilitate the transfer of guests from their personal to waterproof wheelchairs, the team incorporated spacious changing rooms that constitute a Wheelchair Valet. Some rooms are equipped with lifts that can accommodate both children and adults. Also available are adjustable electric changing tables for exact height positioning.
The team also worked with the manufacturer (WhitewaterWest) to provide easier wheelchair access to the River Boat Adventure ride. Prior to installation, this ride would accommodate guests in wheelchairs and walkers via a ramp. Thanks to re-engineering specified by and paid for by the design team, the first river boat ride without a ramp is now in service.
The Rainbow Reef splash pad is designed so the water temperature can be raised for the benefit of guests who can’t tolerate regular water temperatures, even in the heat of summer. Certain medical conditions cause muscle pain or contraction when an individual is subjected to non-heated water.
Like Morgan’s Wonderland, RFID coverage encompasses the splash park so guests can interact with technology and parents can easily ascertain the whereabouts of their children and other members of their party at a Location Station or on their smartphone.
The Ultimate Goal
Planning for the splash park began more than three years ago after a prolonged drought prompted many of Morgan’s Wonderland guests to request something cool and refreshing, especially when afternoon temperatures rose to the century mark. After initial brainstorming for a splash park like no other, collaboration began with splash park consultants from Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Canada. Groundbreaking ceremonies occurred in November 2015, construction began in January 2016, and guests started splashing on June 17, 2017.
For more information, visit www.MorgansWonderland.com. Queries from around the world have been received as well as a renewed interest in Morgan’s Wonderland. Management is more than willing to share lessons learned with other parks in the fervent hope that additions or improvements will be incorporated to benefit guests with special needs. The ultimate goal is to see more and more places around the globe “where everyone can play.”
Ron Morander is the General Manager for Morgan’s Wonderland and Morgan’s Inspiration Island in San Antonio, Texas. Reach him at (210) 495-5888.