About 40 minutes south of Cincinnati, Ohio, an Ark of biblical dimensions sits atop a Kentucky hill near Interstate 75. Open for about a year now, the Ark Encounter—sponsored by Answers in Genesis—sees thousands of visitors every day. Is it worth the trip? And how can various news and blog pieces send polar opposite messages about the Ark’s economic impact to Kentucky? A recent visit gave me a chance to investigate.
After parking and purchasing tickets, rounds of bus trips carry visitors down a valley and up the next hill. Visitors gasp when the massive Ark comes into view. A short walk from the bus stop brings them to a shaded queue beneath the structure’s belly. Designers used a 20.4 inch cubit to measure out the 510 foot-long Ark—right in line with the biblical dimensions. Long ramps lead into the Ark itself, where the first displays consist of mock animal cages.
Still-life pterosaurs with folded wings greet newcomers. I overheard one lady say to her friend, “Wow, I never thought those would be on the ark, but I suppose they would!”
Many cages throughout the three decks illustrate extinct animal kinds that would have had representatives on the Ark. Larger kinds like tyrannosaurs and stegosaurs have smaller, juvenile representatives. All the animals look very realistic, and the displays are clean and clear.
Upper decks feature living quarters for the Ark’s eight human inhabitants, each of which can be spotted somewhere within the bulwark, frozen in their tasks of reading, cooking, tending, or feeding animals. Many displays feature practical solutions to questions like, “How could only eight people clean all these cages?” Angled waste chutes would have helped. Clearly, plenty of expertise went into the feasibility of life on the Ark. By the end of the tour, the message is clear: Noah’s family could have actually pulled off this task just as Genesis describes.
Has the Ark Encounter improved Kentucky’s economy? The Daily Independent recently wrote that the Ark visitors haven’t been spending their money on businesses in nearby Williamstown.1 Hotel tax receipts show increases, but they suggested probably not enough to justify the tax breaks the state surrendered to help make the Ark Encounter a reality.
At least one atheist blog asserts that the Ark has been a flop for Williamstown’s economy. Critics cherry-picked the “Snack Shack,” a privately owned food facility beside the Ark that experienced lower-than-expected business, to represent the supposed economic failing of the Ark Encounter.
I walked past the Snack Shack and saw nobody buying food. Why not? Frankly, it looked a bit uninviting. Plenty of folks dined at the pleasant indoor cafeteria right beside the ark, but who wants to eat a hot dog while standing in the hot sun? One cannot reasonably judge the economic impact of the Ark Encounter based on one small food business.
Level heads see the bigger picture. Mayor Jim Wells told Spectrum News that hotels in his city of Dry Ridge just north of the Ark Encounter have surged from a 60 percent occupancy rate before the Ark to a stellar 98 percent since. He said, “You can’t get a room in Dry Ridge, it’s impossible, and they’re booking out months in advance.”2 He expressed plans to add hotels, restaurants, and other attractions.
WCPO news in Cincinnati reported a huge rise in Northern Kentucky tourism in 2016, and attributed most of that to the Ark Encounter.3 When additional on-site attractions get completed, an even larger Bible theme park promises to draw even more visitors and their pocketbooks from across the nation and the world to Kentucky.4
Even as grumbling Bible-haters paint dark pictures of an economic flop for Kentucky, plenty of people visit the Ark and spend their money at nearby places to sleep and eat. Why do they keep coming? They probably come because they heard the Ark Encounter is impressive, inside and out. And the Ark appears to succeed in encouraging visitors to reconsider the historicity of Genesis, and thus of the whole Bible.
- IN OUR VIEW: Ark Encounter hasn’t spurred economy. The Daily Independent. Posted on dailyindependent.com June 8, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017.
- Weber, D. As one year anniversary approaches, Ark Encounter a boon for Dry Ridge hospitaility [sic] businesses, mayor says. Spectrum News. Posted on mycn2.com June 6, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017.
- Ashwell, V. Ark Encounter helped tide of Northern Kentucky tourism rise in 2016. WCPO. Posted on wcpo.com May 16, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017.
- Heller, K. A giant ark is just the start. These creationists have a bigger plan for recruiting new believers. The Washington Post. Posted on washingtonpost.com May 24, 2017, accessed June 13, 2017.
*Mr. Thomas is Science Writer at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted on June 19, 2017.