A park for every body

Jamie+Vann%2C+KHS+mom%2C+is+the+founder+and+president+of+Spirit+of+Discovery+Park+%28SoDP%29%2C+the+second+fully+accessible+amusement+park+in+the+world+that+will+be+located+in+St.+Louis.

Josie Baker

Jamie Vann, KHS mom, is the founder and president of Spirit of Discovery Park (SoDP), the second fully accessible amusement park in the world that will be located in St. Louis.

Jamie Vann was at Target in one of the food isles when she ran into her friend. Vann found out that she had just visited Morgan’s Wonderland, the only “Ultra-Accessible” theme park for every age and ability in Texas. Vann was determined to bring a similar park to St. Louis. 

Vann, KHS mom, is the founder and president of Spirit of Discovery Park (SoDP), the second fully accessible amusement park in the world that will be located in St. Louis. Vann was upset about the limited opportunities for her friend’s daughter at Disney World.

“It took a while to understand ‘why me,’” Vann said. “My husband and I have two healthy children, and we don’t have anyone on either side of the family with any kind of special need. I just knew I was upset that Disney World didn’t accommodate as much as it should for those with disabilities, and there was a way for me to potentially help that situation.” 

It made me happy that she could enjoy a park like any [other] kid could.”

— Becki Uccello

Originally, SoDP was going to mirror Morgan’s Wonderland, which is 25 acres, but now it has grown to over 60 acres. The park will include activities for people of all ages and abilities such as rides, attractions, a greenhouse, dog park, playground, gluten free bakery and restaurant, an arcade, splash pads, sensory areas, gardens and more.

“When you’re bringing someone to a park like this, you want to be able to bring the person with the disability and allow them to have fun and experience things,” Vann said. “But you also want to have fun things to do for those who are going with them. We have to accommodate both.”

Spirt of Discovery Park. Photo courtesy of Spirt of Discovery Park.

Becki Uccello, SoDP board member, visited Morgan’s Wonderland a few years ago with her family, including her daughter who was born with Spina bifida. Uccello loved seeing her daughter’s excitement about all the independence she had at the park. 

“It made me happy that she could enjoy a park like any [other] kid could,” Uccello said. “Ultimately, I feel like [as] parents of kids with disabilities, we just want our kids to feel like their peers would feel.”

Uccello said she appreciated how easy it was for her daughter to access rides at Morgan’s Wonderland. Some of her favorite memories were watching her daughter get onto rides without having to transfer out of her wheelchair and using a waterproof chair. 

“[It was amazing] having our whole family be able to [go on] rides together,” Uccello said. “These are things that a lot of people take for granted. The four of us enjoying the same things at the same time was a really magical experience.”

Demo kitchen. Photo courtesy of Spirt of Discovery Park.

SoDP has currently raised over $385,000 through fundraising and donations, but expects the park to cost $175 million or more in total, but this could change with inflation or park changes. Right now, they have a contract with a 61-acre piece of land. Their goal is to start building in 2023 and have the park completed in 2025. Vann estimates the park will have at least 1 million visitors a year. 

“Not only is [SoDP] going to be a positive impact, [but] the economic impact is going to be huge as well,” Vann said. “Tourists are not just going to come to Spirit of Discovery Park.”

Sustainability is another part of SoDP. The park’s greenhouse will provide produce for SoDP’s restaurants and food to distribute local restaurants, schools, CSA’s and more. Vann said the park will also provide hundreds of jobs to veterans and people with disabilities. She believes the structured and calm environment will help veterans get used to civilian life. 

Pathway perspective. Photo courtesy of Spirt of Discovery Park.

“The park is going to provide entertainment [and] life-skills training so people who have special needs who want to move out of their house can learn how to live on their own,” Vann said. “[Working at SoDP] is going to be empowering for those who have been so isolated for so long.”

Traci Jansen, board member and first grade teacher at Keysor Elementary, helps develop the greenhouse. She said there will be about 1,500 tower gardens, plants grown vertically indoors, in the greenhouse and more throughout the park. These gardens are also inside the halls of many KSD schools. Jansen said they help her students discover their personal abilities, and will do the same for the workers at SoDP. 

We want to show [the community] how you can make ecologically responsible decisions in everything you do.”

— Traci Jansen

“[The employees] are going to be developing skills on how to care for these fruits, vegetables and crops growing across the entire year,” Jansen said. “It’s not just during spring or summer and harvesting in the fall, which is the traditional outdoor garden growth. [The tower gardens] harvest year-round growth that’s going to be happening everyday, 365 days a year, seven days a week.”

Jansen said the tower gardens are environmentally friendly because they take up less space than farms and constantly recycle water. She said the park will make ecologically responsible decisions in other areas too, like using solar panels for electricity. They will also landscape with plants native to Missouri and establish connections with local businesses. 

The greenhouse at SoDP. Photo courtesy of Spirt of Discovery Park.

“We want to show [the community] how you can make ecologically responsible decisions in everything you do,” Jansen said. “We’ll be designing landscapes in an ecologically responsible way, not just for visual desire, but showing the beauty within our own environment and keeping it local.”

Uccello said SoDP will also have cooking classes where people of all abilities can learn skills and enjoy each other’s company by preparing foods and eating together. She said this and other opportunities within the park will make the park feel inclusive. 

“I’m excited to ride rides and not have to worry about, ‘Can we find handicap parking?  Can we find a family bathroom?” Uccello said. “We know that’s all going to be available [at SoDP].”

Industrial preparation kitchen. Photo courtesy of Spirt of Discovery Park.

Uccello said her daughter is excited about the park and already tells her friends at school about it. Vann said many families will have first time experiences at SoDP. She is excited to give others this opportunity. 

“Tears of joy are going to be rolling all the time,” Vann said. “There are no words for [being] able to provide an opportunity for a family that [they] never thought they would have.”

Use the following links for more information about SoDP’s upcoming fundraisers:

https://e.givesmart.com/events/ntQ/

https://e.givesmart.com/events/pbw/?fbclid=IwAR10YYq6ZYXQAONVDSDkZp-6EQO7xcZ92SmjKYvVnqZZc0ITN7BMWGX19TE

https://e.givesmart.com/events/m5z/