A Dad Inspired by his Daughter With Special Needs, Builds her $35 Million Theme Park
No parent wants to watch their child struggle to make friends or see them excluded because of their special needs.
But when Gordon Hartman watched his then 12-year-old daughter Morgan struggle to make friends at the swimming pool during a family holiday, it broke his heart.
The incident had a profound impact on the dad. He used his heartbreak to find a public space or park that would allow his daughter, who has autism and cognitive delay, to interact with others.
The thing was, after extensive research, there was no such place. So the dad decided to build a theme park for his daughter and for many other families with special needs to enjoy.
Hartman built his own theme park in Texas called Morgan’s Wonderland, which he named after his daughter.
Hartman’s dream for the theme park was to offer a place where people with or without disabilities could play and interact together. He told PEOPLE, his dream was to build a park for “100 percent of people… no matter how acute their special need may be”.
To make the dream a reality, the 53-year-old dad sold his homebuilding business and started The Gordon Hartman Family Foundation in 2005 to help people with disabilities.
In 2008, he had built a $35 million park with a fully-accessible train, playground and Ferris wheel.
This year, the park expanded with a $17 million water park called Morgan’s Inspiration which has a wheelchair-accessible river.
Hartman told PEOPLE, “It’s about not letting anyone feel different.” The park offers experiences for everyone – but especially those with special needs.
Anyone who has mental or physical disabilities receives free admission to the park. At the moment the park operates at a $1 million loss per year, yet they rely heavily on fundraising and donations so they can keep the park open for all.
His daughter is now 23 and still inspires him. This was the inspiration for the name of the water park – Morgan’s Inspiration Island.