Launch - Make a Difference

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Every element of Morgan’s Inspiration Island is wheelchair accessible. (Credit: Robin Jerstad, Jerstad Photographics)
Morgan’s Inspiration Island Water Park Focuses on Accessibility with Inclusive Features

by Keith Miller

Since opening in 2010, Morgan’s Wonderland theme park in San Antonio, Texas, has gained global acclaim for its design and operations, which give unprecedented access to guests with disabilities. Now, Morgan’s Wonderland has opened Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a new water park that provides the same degree of participation and engagement in innovative ways.

The water park officially opened on June 17, 2017, and Gordon Hartman, the founder of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, was on hand. Led by Hartman’s vision, the foundation conceived Morgan’s Wonderland. Hartman’s special-needs daughter, Morgan, was the inspiration for the theme park, and he talks about the creation of Morgan’s Inspiration Island: “The overriding challenge was to create a water park in which everyone can fully participate in the fun. Just like Morgan’s Wonderland, the creation of Morgan’s Inspiration Island truly was a team effort. I brought together passionate people with great ideas for meeting the needs of people young and old with special needs in an aquatic environment.”

In designing the four-acre water park, which admits anyone with special needs free of charge, Hartman called on doctors, therapists, special-education teachers, parents and caregivers of special-needs children, and many others to harvest their ideas. Then he worked with various experts and suppliers in the water park industry to transform those ideas into reality. 

Just as with Morgan’s Wonderland, waterproof wristbands equipped with RFID technology are available so parents and caregivers can go to a “location station” and easily learn the whereabouts of their kids and others in their party. Also, every element of Morgan’s Inspiration Island is wheelchair accessible, and because it is a water park, this is no small feat. 

“One of our biggest challenges involved wheelchairs,” says Hartman. “Guests in expensive, battery-powered wheelchairs can’t afford to get them wet, so we collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh to create the waterproof PneuChair, which is powered by compressed air. We think this advancement will help revolutionize wheelchair technology.”

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A seven-story lighthouse overlooks the water park and its attractions, like “River Boat Adventure,” a five-minute ride through a jungle setting. (Credit: Robin Jerstad, Jerstad Photographics)

The park also worked with manufacturers on two other waterproof wheelchair designs—a push-stroller type for guests needing assistance from a caregiver for mobility, and a rigid-frame manual wheelchair for guests who can push themselves. To help guests transfer from the personal wheelchairs to the waterproof models, the park provides spacious changing rooms, two of which are equipped with lifts. 

As for the $17 million park itself, Morgan’s Inspiration Island overlooks the theme park’s 8-acre, catch-and-release fishing lake. The water park’s focal point is a seven-story lighthouse topped by a rotating beacon. The tropical-themed park includes six major elements: The “River Boat Adventure” ride twists and turns through a jungle setting, featuring bird and animal sounds on its five-minute journey. Five water play areas—Hang 10 Harbor, Harvey’s Hideaway Bay, Rainbow Reef, Shipwreck Island, and Calypso Cove—provide a variety of splash elements like waterfalls, geysers, raintrees, water cannons, jets, and tipping buckets. 

Hartman notes that with “River Boat Adventure” the park worked with WhiteWater, the manufacturer, to make access much easier for guests in wheelchairs, and he hopes these efforts will go beyond Morgan’s Inspiration Island: “We believe the adjustments incorporated will encourage other water parks to want to do more to accommodate guests with special needs.”

The park’s efforts were not limited to helping those with special needs gain access to attractions. Certain medical conditions cause muscle pain or contraction when a person is subjected to non-heated water. So, Rainbow Reef is a warm-water splash pad designed for guests of all ages who may not be able to tolerate regular water temperatures, even during the heat of summer. This allows them to enjoy the reef’s huge spouting octopus, a sea turtle, and a colorful lineup of six giant squirting seahorses. There are also interactive water features and a variety of geysers. 

Other offerings in the water park include the Rusty Anchor Galley Grub and Little Italy Bistro food outlets for snacks and beverages, and the Surf Shack Gifts and Gear sundries shop. There is also a panoramic viewing deck, an air-conditioned party/meeting room, and private cabanas for rent.

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Built with Water Conservation in Mind

San Antonio averages 111 days per year that reach 90 degrees or higher, and since 1990, there have been nine years in which the city has experienced less than 20 inches of rain. So, Morgan’s Inspiration Island was designed with water conservation in mind. 

“The almost 27,000 gallons of water used in the various play elements is continuously filtered and recirculated,” says Gordon Hartman, the founder of The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation, “and it’s stored in huge, concrete underground tanks with a combined capacity of 30,000 gallons when the park is not in operation. Fifteen pumps that can move 9,600 gallons per minute circulate water throughout Morgan’s Inspiration Island.”