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An Amusement Park for Every BODY

The Inspiration Behind Spirit of Discovery Park

Sometimes, an ordinary conversation can inspire big ideas. That’s the case with Spirit of Discovery Park, a nonprofit dedicated to building the nation’s most innovative and fully accessible amusement park. 

Jamie Peniston Vann, president and founder of St. Louis Recreation Development Group, Inc., spoke with her friend who has a child with Down syndrome. Her friend told her that her family would not be visiting Disney World but instead would be visiting Morgan’s Wonderland, the only ultra-accessible amusement park. This conversation was in March 2011.

Fast-forward to February 2016, and Jamie’s friend shared that she and her family had a wonderful experience at Morgan’s Wonderland.

“That sounds like something we should do here,” Jamie told her friend. 

“I honestly believe, with the community that we serve through Shriners, Cardinal Glennon, Children’s Hospital, Ranken Jordan–I think it would survive just with our community!” Jamie said.

Jamie called Morgan’s Wonderland, and she was connected to the consultant that they hired for their efforts in St. Louis. They had drawn up the original rendering for the park in St. Louis.

“At the time, six years ago, we wanted basically what Morgan’s [Wonderland] had: a train, a carousel, a playground, wheelchair swings and a fishing wharf,” Jamie said. “But, because we are in St. Louis and not in Texas, we weren’t going to do the waterpark, only splash pads”

Instead, they wanted the park to have an ice rink with a greenhouse on top of it to insulate it.

“That would be the environment where our veterans, who are coming home from serving, could acclimate back into civilian life while the resumes on their left chests are being transferred to paper,” she said.

However, after listening to the needs of prospective park guests and partnering nonprofits, the park wasn’t big enough.

“So basically, we’re bringing a miniature Epcot to St. Louis,” Jamie said.

Spirit of Discovery Park will include rides, a dog park, sensory areas, a greenhouse, a playground, an arcade, splash pads and so much more. The idea is to be inclusive of all individuals regardless of age, ability or mental acumen. By relying on charitable contributions to fund the park, people of all abilities can enter for free.

“We’re not just for those with special needs; we’re for EVERY body,” Jamie said.

But why did Jamie set out to bring this special park to the region? As a friend of hers pointed out, she’s not a millionaire or a celebrity, nor does she have a loved one with special needs.

“This is definitely a calling, not a job, which I figured out later,” Jamie said. “If you would have ever told me that I’d be building an amusement park, I would have laughed.”

Jamie doesn’t believe in coincidences and said that her involvement with the park’s development is all part of God’s plan.

“The number of people that this has already touched, and it’s not even open, and the number of lives that are going to be impacted … I’m just honored to have been chosen.”

In order to make Spirit of Discovery Park a reality, the nonprofit organization has already submitted a contract on a 61-acre parcel of land for the future site of the park. The next steps include closing on the land, developing 3D renderings and detailed architectural drawings for the city’s approval, and launching a capital campaign. 

“It’s definitely a grassroots effort, but it’s working,” she said. “It’s really exciting, and all these little pieces are coming together.”

To learn more about Spirit of Discovery Park, visit