Ark Encounter opens to praise, protests

Tourists flood to Ark Encounter on opening day

WILLIAMSTOWN, KY (WAVE) - Answers in Genesis, the literalist Christian organization behind the Creation Museum nearby, expects that a mix of controversy and curiosity would draw praise and protesters to the official opening of the Ark Encounter on Thursday morning.

But many, if not most of the paying visitors appeared to be on a quest, bordering on a pilgrimage.

"The theology on this looks pretty strong," said Brian Koch, a tax attorney who drove 15 hours straight from Metuchen, N.J., factoring in a delay he's not quite sure was coincidental or prophetic.

"It's like we were coming for Noah's Ark and it was raining that hard," he laughed.

Koch, and Michigan home-builder Brian Edwards share an appreciation for the science and math behind the re-creation. Using Biblical proportions - the Egyptian cubit (20.4 inches), the concrete-moored Ark measures 510 feet long, 80 feet wide and five stories high. The fire marshal would rate that pace enough for 10,000 visitors. The Old Testament would rate more than 5,000 pairs of God's creatures, sheltered from a flood so devastating as to wipe out the rest of civilization.

"They thought of a lot of things, you know, just the way they built the cages and figuring out how to get rid of the waste," Edwards said.

"There's a lot of things being patched that aren't in the Bible (Genesis)," Koch said. "But by cross-referencing other sections, it's pretty clear."

Answers in Genesis had assets Noah likely didn't in its re-creation: time and numbers. Construction took more than a year-and-a-half and involved more than 1,000 craftspeople, including electricians, plumbers and sound technicians.

"It's not entirely clear how many helpers (Noah) had, because he did bring in a lot of artisans and disbelievers," Koch said. "They just did it to do it."

Protesters have criticized the endeavor as bad science, and a breaking of the barriers between church and state. Among the creatures represented
aboard: two dinosaurs. Prevailing scientific thought puts their existence on earth about 65 million years B.C. To suggest that dinosaurs and Noah were contemporaries would make the Earth only 6,000 years old - which archaeological and anthropological evidence dispute.

"There's a lot of people that believe that God didn't make the world, but that doesn't make any sense," Edwards said. "You have two choices, either God made everything, or nothing made everything."

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"I believe that the Bible is true," said Tammy O'Donovan, an American who's called Ireland home for the past 15 years. "And I believe if it's in the Bible it's a true story."

What's undeniable is that Kentucky and Williamstown have committed dollars to Christian sensibilities. Almost two-thirds -- $62.5 million of the project's costs -- come through bonds sold through Williamstown's auspices. Answers in Genesis can recover almost $18.5 million in sales taxes paid on-site over the next 10 years, if it holds to projections of 2 million visitors per year. Kentucky's Transportation Cabinet, meanwhile, has committed $10 million to widen and improve Highway 36, off of Interstate-75, to alleviate traffic issues.

"It'll be good for the economy," said Stacy Barry of El Paso, Texas. "But I'm disappointed that some say this could be better spent feeding the hungry. You didn't say that when they built the Six Flags. Just because it's faith-based and faith-built, the money is going to feed people in a different way."

Answers in Genesis claims the Ark and the Creation Museum, combined, will pump $4 billion into Kentucky in the next 10 years, creating 20,000 jobs. Expansion plans call for a "First Century Walled City," reflecting the elements that led to the Flood. A petting zoo and aviary are also planned, as there are no live creatures aboard the Ark itself.

"I'm here for my children," said Edwards, a father of five. "I want them to get that the story is real, that God did create everything."

Noah's Ark is her 5-year-old daughter Rylee's favorite Bible story.

"She's seeing more detail than what you get when you read typical children's Bible story," Barry said.

Mom's pop quiz revealed Rylee understood the significance of the rainbow when Noah, his family and creatures exited the Ark.

"That He won't do it again," she said. "That God keeps his promises."

Believing that faith shepherds the flock, Ark Encounter will be open until midnight its first 40 days of operation, the length of the rains detailed in Genesis.

Tickets are $40 for adults, $31 for seniors, and $28 for children ages 5-12. Children younger than 5 are free.

Founder Ken Ham pushed to open July 7, the seventh day of the seventh month, reflecting the chapter and verse in Genesis (7:7) in which Noah exits the Ark.

"The story, in and of itself, will keep people coming back," O'Donovan said. "We can't force anybody to believe what we would believe, but they can come
see for themselves."

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