Ultra-Accessible Camp In The Works
SAN ANTONIO — Gordon Hartman, the developer and philanthropist who created the unparalleled Morgan’s Wonderland theme park for people with special needs, is at it again.
His next endeavor will be Morgan’s Wonderland Camp — a $28 million “recreational oasis” that will provide a summer-camp-like experience for people of all ages, with and without special needs.
Hartman said the 100-acre camp would not be possible without the generosity of Valero Energy Corp., its president and CEO, Joe Gorder, and former CEO Bill Klesse. The corporation is donating $15 million — its single largest charitable contribution. Gorder and Klesse are each donating $2.5 million.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
“Our entire organization is supportive of this,” Gorder said.
Gorder said he and his wife, Lacie, didn’t need to be convinced about making a donation, having visited Morgan’s Wonderland and Inspiration Island — the adjacent water park — and seen the quality of the operation.
The camp will be on the San Antonio’s North Side near the TPC Golf Course.
Hartman said it will be “ultra-accessible. Both those with and without special needs can come together for fun and understanding in an inclusive environment without physical or economic barriers.”
Once completed, the camp will accommodate up to 525 campers of all ages and staff members. It will have a multi-platform zip line that anyone can ride, including people who use wheelchairs or rely on a breathing apparatus. There will be horseback riding, hiking trails that are wheelchair-accessible, a nature farm with animals, several pools and a lazy river, an archery range, a sports pavilion and a challenge course with climbing walls for campers with varied abilities.
It will also have an arts-and-crafts center, a large tree house, trails for bikes and trikes, a fire pit, 20 cabins, a large welcome center with a kitchen and dining hall, and a camp store.
Camping sessions will last from one to 10 days.
After amassing a fortune in home construction and development, Hartman turned his attention to improving the lives of people with special needs by building Morgan’s Wonderland, a one-of-a-kind park built on a former quarry. He then expanded the park with Morgan’s Inspiration Island, a seasonal water park that offers access to people with special needs.
Hartman, whose parks are named in honor of his daughter who has special needs, routinely underscores that his work in that arena is about creating spaces that break down obstacles and bring people together.
He gets high marks for that from Melanie Cawthon, co-founder and executive director of disABILITYsa, a San Antonio organization devoted to people with disabilities and their families.
“With Morgan’s Wonderland and the water park, and now this new camp, there are places where families can go and enjoy it together,” she said.
Hartman has had a significant impact, particularly on recreational activities for the disability community here, she said, and he’s “really putting his money behind making San Antonio a good place to live and to visit.”
The existing parks have been a beacon, attracting people from all over the world. Hartman expects the camp will further the mission.
As Hartman began assembling the half-dozen separate properties that comprise the camp land, he approached Patti Nett, who had a 5,500-square-foot home on 7.7 acres. She and her late husband, Robert, had lived there since 2001.
Hartman said she told him that her husband had been a doctor who worked with people with disabilities, and they’d hoped their land would not be developed. She agreed to sell her property to Hartman’s nonprofit.
The home will be transformed into the camp’s medical center, with isolation rooms, exam rooms and a secure drug storage, all managed by a full-time doctor and nurse, Hartman said.
While designing the project, Hartman said he’s worked with city officials to ensure the camp facilities will be congruent with the city’s mission to protect the quantity and quality of water entering the Edwards Aquifer on the property, which is outside of the city limits.
Last week, the City Council approved the purchase of a $3 million conservation easement on the property through San Antonio’s Edwards Aquifer Protection Program. Voters approved a sales tax to fund the purchase of land or development rights in sensitive areas over the Edwards in order to safeguard San Antonio’s main water supply.
In the same transaction, the city also purchased outright more than 150 acres adjacent to the camp land for $5.5 million.
During his announcement, Hartman said he and his wife have been asked why they’re moving so quickly to create the camp. It’s just been two years since they opened Morgan’s Inspiration Island.
There are a number of reasons, he said. One is the joy he sees in his daughter when she goes to camp. He and his wife have learned not to tell her about camp until it’s time to leave. Otherwise, it will become her only topic of conversation, Hartman said, amusing the audience.
Actually, it boils down this, he said: “There’s a lot of need. … Nothing can compare to a summer-camp-like experience.”
© 2019 San Antonio Express-News
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC