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More than 8,000 VIP guests attend the Ark Encounter ribbon cutting ceremony on July 5, 2016, getting a sneak preview of the attraction before it officially opened to the public. Photo courtesy of Answers in Genesis

Biblical proportions

By Anne Bokma

The Ark Encounter, a US$100 million “replica” of Noah’s Ark built to the exact specifications found in Genesis 6, stretches one-and-a-half football fields long and rises seven storeys high. Visitors to this American theme park aren’t arriving in twos — but by the hundreds of thousands.

Noah in Kentucky

The Williamstown, Ky., theme park, which opened last July, is the biblical equivalent of Disneyland. But instead of Mickey Mouse, there’s an animatronic Noah and lifelike models of 30 animal pairs, including two juvenile T-Rex dinosaurs. Instead of selling the magic of childhood, it sells the magic of miracles — specifically the kind that keeps a righteous family of eight and a purported menagerie of 7,000 creatures afloat on a boat for 150 days. The Ark Encounter is the brainchild of Ken Ham, of the fundamentalist ministry Answers in Genesis, which is also behind the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Va.

Flooded with visitors

The Ark Encounter expects 1.4 million visitors this year. A flood of 400,000 showed up in the first three months, drawn in part by a “40 days and 40 nights” special offer during its first 40 days of operation. Its 132 exhibits, spread over three decks, promote a literal telling of the flood story with practical explanations for how Noah managed to get so many animals onto the ark (most were young and small), what the animals ate (compressed hay, dried meat and water piped in from outside) and the delicate matter of where their waste went (tamped down by the animals into pits below slatted floors).

Thanks be to tax breaks

The park has received millions of dollars in state tax breaks despite being accused of discriminatory hiring practices (employees must sign a statement of faith that says they repudiate premarital sex and homosexuality, and that the world is 6,000 years old). Atheist protesters even tried to launch a billboard campaign depicting the place as a “Genocide and Incest Park,” but their ads were turned down. While Ham credits God for guiding him on his theme park mission, it’s clear Walt Disney had some influence as well. 

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