Call it a miracle. One minute, it was raining like the devil; absolute sheets of water making it nearly impossible to see signs on the interstate. The next second, clouds parted, the waters ceased, and a rainbow appeared on the horizon over Williamstown, Kentucky. Surely it was a sign from heaven that God loves reporters.
Just kidding. There was no rainbow at the “Ark Encounter” press event last week, and no evidence that God cares about the press one way or the other. But the heart-stopping, gulley-washing torrents did end just in time for a couple dozen members of the secular and Christian media to dash across the puddled parking lot, don hardhats, and join the construction site where, sometime next year, Answers in Genesis will open the first stage of a massive theme park planned for Northern Kentucky.
Answers in Genesis—AIG—is, of course, the ministry behind the Creation Museum, and Ark Encounter is its latest project. The centerpiece of the endeavor, announced several years ago, will be an ark built to biblical specifications—300 cubits long and 30 cubits high. That’s 510 by 80 feet for those readers who have mislaid their cubit-to-foot calculators.
AIG’s big boat has had a bumpy ride so far, with controversies around its future hiring practices (will employees be required to sign a statement of faith?) and its ongoing battle with the state of Kentucky over $18 million in sales tax incentives that the state initially approved, then snatched back. The project has been in the planning stage for several years and, while ground has been broken for some time, the site is at the end of a haphazardly paved farm road outside of Williamstown—800 acres of remote hills and valleys that no one would stumble across accidentally. And so it’s likely that most Cincinnatians and Northern Kentuckians have pretty much forgotten about it.
But if there was anyone in the crowd gathered at the construction site on this day who assumed that AIG would never get the ark off the ground (to mix a transportation metaphor), they stood corrected.
It’s here. It’s kinda queer. Get used to it.
The “kinda queer” part is that what is visible now is the internal structure, which is odd looking but HUGE: concrete floors and three block towers that will house elevator shafts and lavatories for the hordes who are expected to visit annually. When it’s finished, inside it will very much be a modern interactive museum with displays and exhibits. However modern they seem, these will be calculated to convince visitors that the ark and all its contents really did exist; that the Great Flood laid down the earth’s fossil record in one fell swoop; that every beast, insect, man, woman, and child on earth today sprang from the loins of those on board; and that Noah pulled this all off at the command of his God. Noah was a smart guy, according to exhibit designer Patrick Marsh. “Smarter than we are today.”
Still, the site is a testament to the fact that modern builders are not chumps either. When finished, the outside will look like Noah’s ark—that is, what one supposes the massive wooden Old Testament vessel might have looked like if it did indeed exist. The main framework for the external structure will be a series of gargantuan timber bents—cross-sections made of hardwood and straight-as-an-arrow lodgepole pine. As reporters and cameramen scrambled to see, the ark crew raised one of these post-and-beam sections (imagine a picture frame the size of a school gym floor) from horizontal to vertical using two high cranes, and slid it into place as neatly as returning a slice of rye bread to the loaf.
AIG president Ken Hamm—the former science teacher from Australia who founded the Creation Museum—told reporters that the Ark Experience would open “sometime next year” and would ultimately draw 2.8 million visitors annually. It’s part of a 10-year plan to create a biblical theme park, with restaurants, shopping, entertainment, and scripturally inspired venues. There was mention of interactive attractions based on the Tower of Babel and the Parting of the Red Sea; nothing was said about Sodom and Gomorrah. But to put a fine point on just how busy he expects the place to become, Hamm pointed across a valley to a distant hill where trees have been cleared for a 4,000-car parking lot. The Ark Experience, he said, “will be one of the biggest Christian attractions in the world.”
It’s hard to believe, but it has gotten this far. And the rain seems to be cooperating.