By Angela Reinhardt, Staff Writer
We’d made it through the queue and onto one of the caravan of buses that took guests to the main attraction. After rounding the last curve it came into sight — a towering 510-foot long, five-story high wooden boat. The mammoth vessel garnered a wave of “oohhhhs” from people on board.
I thought I had some idea of what to expect when we agreed to go on a trip with my parents and sister’s family to see the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum in Kentucky, but I was wrong. I’d anticipated something more podunk – rundown animatronic Biblical figures and information to read on displays – but both attractions were massive (four to five hours was the recommended time to see each at a comfortable pace), and impressive from a design perspective.
If you haven’t heard of either, which I hadn’t until my sister asked us to go, they were the brainchild of Ken Ham, Australian founder and CEO of Answers in Genesis. Ham – a fundamentalist, young earth Creationist, and former science teacher – uses the attractions to spread Biblical literalism and young-earth theology, which posit the world and universe are 6,000 years old according to accounts in Genesis.
“How do you reach the general public in a bigger way?” he told The Washington Post. “Why not attractions that people will come to the way they go to Disney or Universal or the Smithsonian?”
I’d say Ham achieved that goal. Both were spectacular no matter what side of the theological coin you’re on. Like the character John Hammond, creator of the fictitious Jurassic Park says in the film, “no expense was spared.”
And speaking of dinosaurs they were everywhere. Dragons had their own exhibit, too. According to Biblical literalism, God created dinosaurs on the 6th day with other beasts. Dinosaur statues were on the Noah’s ark replica, in outdoor gardens, and indoor exhibits.
I went down a Ken Ham/Ark Encounter/Creation Museum rabbit hole.
The museum cost $27 million to construct. The ark was over $100 million. Amish builders oversaw erection of the Ark, the largest wooden timber structure in the world. It sits on an 800-acre site that dwarfs Disneyland’s 500 acres in California. Ken Ham’s net worth is around $54 million.
The Ark attracts millions of visitors each year, but Williamsburg, Kentucky is in the middle of nowhere. People in Williamsburg thought their town would explode after the Ark opened in 2016, but it’s still only slightly larger than Jasper with one small Mexican restaurant nearby. It reminded me of the $130 million Port Royal water park/resort proposal for Talking Rock that had the town into a frenzy – some pro, some con – before the project died.
With the Ark Encounter there were large, controversial sales tax incentives and bonds worked out with state and local officials that raised questions about separation of church and state. It and other issues resulted in numerous legal battles. On the Ark’s opening day in 2016 a protest and counter-protest were held outside.
I love traveling, even if it’s to somewhere I wouldn’t have chosen myself. I approach trips positively, with the mindset that new experiences create new perspectives. My family enjoyed the evenings playing pool, discussing the deluge of sights and sounds we’d taken in after longs days immersed in Creationist theology. Some of us agree with it, some of us have much different opinions. Some of us were good at pool, some of us were really bad.
I’m fortunate that my teenagers still like to go on trips with us. We enjoy each other’s company, even in the car on the long drives when we can comment on things we see. Somewhere in Kentucky we passed a billboard advertising Ellijay. We cranked up “Rocky Top” when we drove through the Tennessee town. We passed a defunct-looking building off I-75 called “Adult World.”
“It’s probably not what we’re thinking,” I said. “I bet it’s a bunch of exhibits of adults doing their taxes or standing on a scale looking sad.”
My son guessed one display might be a man trying to figure out why his step-kids hate him.
You wouldn’t think the Ark Encounter, Creation Museum and Adult World would have anything in common – other than potential commentary on nudity before and after The Fall – but for us they were all pieces of a memorable and thought-provoking Labor Day weekend trip.
With school fall break coming up next week I hope any trips you have planned spark new thoughts and good conversations, and that you enjoy time with loved ones along the way. Happy travels.