After years of planning, fundraising and a legal battle with the state, the Ark Encounter theme park opens to the public Thursday near Williamstown, in Northern Kentucky.
The park — which features a full-scale model of Noah’s Ark — was dedicated earlier this week in a ceremony that included the blowing of the shofar, or ram’s horn. Some 7,000 donors got an early look at the ark, a literal interpretation of the story of Noah’s Ark told in the Old Testament of the Bible.
It was built by the Christian group Answers in Genesis, which also operates the Creation Museum not far away in Petersburg.
The official opening marks a moment of jubilation for the group’s founder, Ken Ham, and the park’s creators. But opponents aren’t staying silent.It was built by the Christian group Answers in Genesis, which also operates the Creation Museum not far away in Petersburg.
Ham, a native of Australia, is the face and the voice of Answers in Genesis. During his media session this week, he took aim at those who criticize his group as anti-science and take issue with the help the park has received from local and state governments.
“It’s a group of secularists that single us out and create all sorts of misconceptions and misinformation.” Ham said. “Because this is so major, it is going to have a major impact, because we are Christian and we’re going to get the Christian message out and that’s what it’s all about. It’s prejudice against the Christians.”
Some of those critics planned to protest outside the Ark Encounter on opening day.
“If you’re going to build your religious attraction, build it with your own money,” says Jim G. Helton.
Helton leads the group Tri-State Free Thinkers. They take issue with Answers in Genesis’ faith-based hiring practices.
“Don’t take state money. If you’re a nonprofit, you have a right to discriminate,” Helton said. “Whether we like it or not, you have that right. A for-profit company can receive state tax money, but you cannot discriminate. They’re double-dipping.”
Ham says the $18 million in state tax rebates the park could get are no different than tax deductible donations received by nonprofits and churches. He predicts the park will help create thousands of jobs in the region.
And he says his group’s religious preferences in hiring are legal, citing a recent federal judge’s ruling in a dispute with the state. Ham is vocal in his opposition to same-sex marriage, but he denies his group is anti-LGBTQ.
“I want to invite them to come to the ark,” Ham said. “We’re not anti-them at all. We don’t agree with their belief, but I’m against people who want to impose their belief on the culture and try to make me say I have to agree with them. I can disagree with them but still love them.”
Religious and political differences aside, the ark itself is an impressive feat of construction. Answers in Genesis says it’s the largest free-standing timber building in the world — 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, not counting its supports.
Inside, there are 132 exhibits. All the animals are models. Two small caged dinosaurs are a nod to the group’s belief that the earth was created 6,000 years ago, and that humans and dinosaurs roamed it together.
One of the ark’s donors is Kathy Flack of Greenfield, Indiana, who got her first look at the site this week. She said she never lost confidence that Ham and his team would pull it off.
“Well, if it had been anybody but Ken Ham, maybe not, but when he and God put their mind to something, it happens,” said Flack.
During Ham’s press conference on Tuesday, someone raised a question he said he hears often: If the earth is flooded again, will the ark float?
Ham said it doesn’t matter.
“Because after the flood, God said that there was a covenant between him and man and the animals as sealed by the rainbow, that there would never be another flood like that one,” Ham said. “So will the ark float? No, we didn’t build it to float because there’s never going to be another global flood like that one.”
The Ark Encounter cost some $100 million to build. More Bible-themed attractions are planned at the site over the next several years, Ham said.