The minds behind the Morgan’s Wonderland theme park showed how outdoor activities like zip lining and horseback riding will be accessible to campers of all abilities as they gave media members a first peek at the new Morgan’s Wonderland Camp on Tuesday.
The $34 million, 102-acre tree-filled property in northeast Bexar County is packed with recreational activities, many of which are accessible to special-needs campers for the first time.
“Morgan’s Wonderland is about doing things that have never been done before,” founder Gordon Hartman said. “That’s what we’re about, getting outside the box to ensure that what we do is possible for everyone in the community, not just a certain percent.”
Two brothers — 7-year-old Devyn Harrigan, who has spina bifida, and 11-year-old David, who does not — scaled a specially designed climbing wall side-by-side with staff operating the special rope-and-pulley system to assist Devon in case his legs slipped.
Devyn’s mom, Phyllis Harrigan, said she discovered the opportunities at Morgan’s Wonderland facilities, which include a new sports facility, about two years ago and it has given her son the kind of life that didn’t seem possible before.
“I’m so happy for him, because before he was always upset and crying and sad because he always wanted to play with other children and not feel different,” she said. “[Now] he’s happy all the time, he’s smiling all the time. It promotes him to do more stuff. It’s everything good for him.”
Briana Troy, who has Down syndrome, demonstrated the new zip line and smiled and giggled as she prepared to ride. Returning with a wide smile and hands waving, she quickly asked for another ride.
While most zip lines start out at a high elevation and descend to the ground, this one is opposite, starting at the ground and going up 11 stories before returning.
“The reason it was built that way is to accommodate those who maybe always wanted to go on a zip line but couldn’t because they were on a breathing apparatus or they were on oxygen or in a wheelchair,” Hartman said. “At Morgan’s Wonderland everybody can do everything. Someone in a wheelchair can go on our zip line. This is the first time that’s ever been developed.”
The zip line resembles a theme park ride and is has almost endless adaptabilities to account for all riders, including space for an oxygen tank or other medically necessary device. Challenge course instructor Tyler Wise said footrests and headrests can be added, and the seats have straps to safely secure the occupants for their 700-foot ride out over the Texas Hill Country.
The camp also has its own water park that includes a warm pool, a larger pool with a beachfront entry, a splash pad, and a lazy river. Campers who use wheelchairs can roll right down into the water in pneumatic wheelchairs, which can operate under water.
Mario Wright, a wheelchair athlete who is involved in many team sports at Morgan’s Wonderland, was all smiles as he tested out the pneumatic wheelchair. He winced and laughed as the cold water hit him, but declared the chair easy to operate as he made a quick exit from the pool.
The camp also offers horseback riding with accommodations for riders of any ability, archery, an arts and crafts room, a small library, an indoor basketball court, bicycle and walking trails wide enough for two wheelchairs to travel side-by-side, and a 4,000-square-foot kitchen and dining hall.
The campground can host as many as 500 campers and staff in 20 different cabins. It was open to a few limited campers during the summer, but is now fully opening up to family weekend camps and other types of camps. The first family camp, scheduled for the first weekend in November, is already full. Within a few hours of opening registration for the camp, all the spots were taken, Hartman said, and there is now a waiting list.
In keeping with the policy for other Morgan’s Wonderland locations, Hartman said anyone with special needs is able to attend the camp free of charge.
Morgan’s Wonderland Campground is just the newest in the assortment of Morgan’s Wonderland facilities that were originally created for and inspired by Hartman’s daughter, Morgan, who was born with cognitive and physical special needs. The campground joins the original Morgan’s Wonderland theme park, Morgan’s Inspiration Island water park, and Morgan’s Wonderland Sports, which is designed to be accessible for wheelchair athletes. The other Morgan’s Wonderland facilities are located in northeast San Antonio.
At the campground, Morgan’s Wonderland has partnered with other organizations to allow them to use the camp property and facilities. The San Antonio Food Bank has full use of the camp kitchen for meal preparation, and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Department has a substation on the property. The Edwards Aquifer Authority also built an education outreach center on the grounds that will be used for educating campers about the importance of San Antonio’s water sources.
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Devyn Harrigan’s name.