Amid clouds and drizzle, thousands gather to board Noah’s Ark
WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. — A line of cars crept along the highway toward life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark in a muddy Kentucky pasture.
There was no worldwide flood Tuesday, but rain clouds hovered and drizzled over the ark.
Believers and media from around the world descended on the rural Kentucky town of Williamstown for the ribbon cutting and sneak preview of
Ark Encounter in Grant County. The 500-foot-long, $100 million ark opens to the public on Thursday.
A man in Biblical-era robes warmed the crowd up with a flute solo before the creationists christened the ship.
The staff at the Ark Encounter estimated 7,000 in the crowd for the invite-only event for donors.
It remains to be seen whether it will draw the 2 million people annually the Ark Encounter owners expect.
Clint Bishard of
Tulsa, Okla., stood outside the ark Tuesday to see where the money he donated went. He wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s about telling the true history,” Bishard said. “There was a supernatural creation. There was a global flood. That’s very different from what you hear in the public school system.”
Controversy and debate have flooded the ark much like the
Creation Museum a few miles north. Both are created and managed by the same parent organization, Answers in Genesis.
The displays tout the creationist worldview, taking the Bible literally, that the Earth is 6,000 years old, people lived with dinosaurs, etc.
Inside the ark, replica dinosaurs sit in pens with bears, birds and other fauna. A cacophony of recorded animal sounds reminds the visitor there are two of everything behind these pens. Displays ask and answer questions.
Want to know how Noah kept the polar bears cool? According to the ark researchers, Polar bears weren’t on the ark, just two bears that gave rise to polar bears.
The beliefs of the creationists have spurred ridicule. They expect protests when it opens to the public.
Ken Ham looked out at the thousands who attended the ceremony, he felt vindicated. Ham is the founder, CEO and president of Answers in Genesis, who has worked on building a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark for 12 years.
“There are thousands of people out there who support God’s word beginning in Genesis, bigger than anyone realizes,” Ham said.
Debate rages over tax credits and government support
While there weren’t protesters, Ham and many in the crowd felt they were being attacked.
Ham slammed the criticism over the Ark Encounter receiving tax credits. State and local governments approved tax incentives worth $80 million over the next 20 years. The state is also spending $10 million to revamp the I-75 exit next year to handle the traffic.
This has sparked debate over separation of church and state. Ham drew some of his loudest applause defending their right to have tax credits like any other organization.
He calmly answered media questions from Germany, Britain and elsewhere. He maintains taxpayer dollars aren’t paying for the ark.
The $18 million in sales tax rebates the state approved means the ark will have to generate that income for the state, Ham said. The bonds issued by the city of Williamstown are the responsibility of the Ark Encounter to pay off, not the taxpayer, officials have argued.
Ham said his organization is entitled to the same treatment as other organizations.
“People say you’re a religious organization, you’re a Christian organization, and you’re getting support from the government,” Ham said. “What’s the difference between that and a 501c3 or any church where people give tax-deductible donations?”
It was these very tax credits that convinced Ham to open the ark in Kentucky, Ham told the crowd. He had considered Indiana prior.
A federal court sided with Ham reinstating the tax credits former Gov.
Steve Beshear, a Democrat, had rescinded, based on concerns about the separation of church and state.
Many of the conservative politicians and business leaders in Northern Kentucky that attended agreed the ark deserves the tax credits. Senate Majority Leader
Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, and Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore all were present Tuesday at the ark. They waxed enthusiastic about the Ark Encounter, the Creation Museum and the boon economically they hope the region receives.
“I’m a Christian and I support the Answers in Genesis ministry and what they do,” Thayer said. “For me as the senator for Grant County, it’s about economics, the jobs it’s going to create.”
Thayer said he “mostly” agreed with the Creationist philosophy. Moore he agreed with their worldview.
Schickel gave a more measured response.
“I don’t see a conflict in science and biblical teaching,” Schickel said. “I’m not a scientist and I’m not a bible scholar. But when there is a conflict, I believe in the Holy Scripture.”
While many at the ceremony on Tuesday expect the ark to draw millions a year to the state, Gov.
Matt Bevin did not attend the festivities. Lt. Gov. Jenean Hamptonattended instead. A message seeking comment from Bevin was not returned. Hampton said she hopes the ark draws millions.
“It’s absolutely beyond imagination,” Hampton said. “This is such a blessed day.”
Tower of Babel and more planned
The ark is only the beginning for the site in Grant County, Ham said. The next step will be to build an ancient walled city and a pre-flood village. Future construction will be a Tower of Babel to speak against “prejudice and racism,” Ham said. These will be built over the next two or three years.
While the state road improvements are a year off, Ham believes the road will handle the millions of visitors.
“They won’t all come at once,” Ham said. “I think there will be some peak times, but we also have lots of police and state troopers that we have talked to looking after the traffic out there.”
The creationists who boarded the ark on Tuesday didn’t seem worried about the traffic.
Trinity Adams, 4, perched on her dad’s shoulders as they walked through the mock animal pens and living quarters.
Her parents, Brent and Pamela Adams of Cincinnati, pointed out lessons of good and evil, Adam and Eve.
All three wore patriotic red, white and blue and beamed with enthusiasm about the Ark Encounter. They believe this proves the Bible.
“I find it interesting people want to squash it and don’t want to hear it,” Pamela Adams said. “This is showing that it’s possible. A lot of people want to say the ark was not possible, you couldn’t have these animals. Here is a representation that yes, it’s possible.”