Ark Encounter’s Impact—Responding to Misinformation

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The anti-God, agenda-driven secular media often try to fulfill their own (negative) prophecies about this Christian ministry. A good case in point was an item in our local Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper, a publication that has recently printed a few articles with misinformation about Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and now the new Ark Encounter. The Enquirer article is quoted below, along with my comments.

Impact of NKY’s Giant Ark Felt Near but Not Far [NKY=Northern Kentucky]
Even the newspaper headline suggests a negative! What does it even mean? The economic impact is certainly being felt in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati region at hotels, restaurants, other businesses, and so on, as expected. And the impact of the biblical messages of the Ark is far and wide, as people visit from all across the United States and other parts of the world. Guests often comment on the enormous variety of license plates they see on cars in the parking lot, reflecting that people are coming here from all across America.

Tour buses, not animals, have lined up outside the giant ark in Grant County.

Yes, many tour buses have come loaded with people, though most such tours will increase in the fall (as our advance group bookings show). However, tens of thousands of cars have also brought multi-thousands of visitors. And no, we wouldn’t expect animals to be coming—that only happened with the original Ark in Noah’s day!

Ark Guests from Tour Bus
Anytime you plop a 500-foot-long Noah’s Ark in the middle of farmland, it’ll have an impact. But its initial impact has surprised Grant County residents.

Many secular reports claim the Ark is in the middle of farmland—as if it’s in the middle of nowhere! However, the Ark is located on 800 acres right at exit 154 on Interstate 75—the second busiest north/south interstate in the United States. The 4,000-space parking lot (built to accommodate increasing numbers of visitors as additional phases are added to the Ark Encounter) is just a few hundred yards off I-75 on Route 36.

People from all over the country have flocked to the Ark Encounter since it opened a month ago on July 7.

Yes—that’s true—and not just from all over the country, but from all over the world. Anytime I visit the Ark and meet visitors, I will ask where they are from, and every time I’ve met people from a variety of countries.

It’s brought more people than many expected, but they’re not venturing into the towns in the numbers some locals had hoped. Now that the national publicity has died down, Grant Countians are evaluating how this curious attraction built by people who take a literal interpretation of the Bible will fit in with the small town feel.
Indications are that attendance will be well over the minimum of 1.4 million per year predicted by America’s Research Group.

Yes, the visitor numbers have been outstanding. Of course, we need to get a year behind us to understand all the attendance trends. At present, indications are that attendance will be well over the minimum of 1.4 million per year predicted by America’s Research Group—the research estimated 1.4 million to 2.2 million per year. And certainly, visitors are pouring into the town of Dry Ridge, two exits north of the Ark exit, filling the hotels there and impacting restaurants, and other businesses. For instance, Beans Cafe & Bakery (my favorite stop for a latte and a maple-glazed donut or a sandwich) is enjoying a significant increase in the number of visitors on a daily basis. Many of the visitors tell them that they are from out of state and are staying in the area to visit the Ark and Creation Museum 40 miles away.

Richard Hayhoe, owner of Beans, told us, “We appreciate the steady stream of patrons that fuel up in the morning with our fresh baked items or relax later in the day with lunch or dinner.” Beans is a local, independent cafe, bakery, and ice cream spot with an excellent reputation for fresh food served by friendly faces (located at 21 Taft Hwy just off I-75 at exit 159).

Now it is true that Williamstown itself hasn’t seen the impact that Dry Ridge has, but that’s simply because there are no major hotels or restaurants in Williamstown, and there is no “anchor” facility in the town. However, over time, as development occurs, I predict there will be a great impact on this town. But it’s going to take developers to come in and get things going. I believe this will happen, for entrepreneurs will notice there are not enough hotel rooms in the area, and the Ark visitor numbers will continue to grow as the park expands!

It hasn’t created the traffic snarl some feared, but it also hasn’t led to the real estate boom some expected, said Dry Ridge Mayor Jim Wells.

First, the reporter should be saying, “Thanks to the Ark Encounter remaining open until midnight for the first 40 days during the summer busy period, this strategy has helped space out the vehicles coming to the attraction and alleviated traffic.

“Also, thanks should go to the Ark Encounter for working out a system where vehicles can come straight into the Ark’s parking lot without being stopped to pay for parking.

“And thanks to the Ark Encounter for paying $500,000 to put in the turn lanes on Route 36 to help with traffic flow. All this has helped alleviate traffic problems with those coming off the interstate at exit 154.”

In regard to real estate values, I don’t know what the Dry Ridge mayor may have said to the reporter about the Ark after being open for only a month. Much of what we say to these secular media is twisted or taken out of context. So I wonder if this quote is accurate—particularly since it’s not in quotation marks! I think most people realize that real estate values will increase over time as demand for property and development occurs. That’s true of any area when a major development occurs. Also, I’ve seen some properties for sale at prices that are not in accord with current demand—though prices may well increase down the road as development occurs. Once development begins to grow, I’m sure real estate values will go up.

Property owners have held onto property hoping the ark will drive values up, [Dry Ridge Mayor Jim Wells] said. That’s delayed three developments, Wells said, one a restaurant, another a “theme-based” hotel. The third project he wouldn’t release any details on, citing a confidentiality agreement.

“There are people that still believe their property because of the ark opening is worth so much more of than the cost can prove,” Wells said. “That is the no. 1 hindering factor for any new development.”

Certainly, the prices wanted for some properties are exceeding current values—one cannot expect values to rise immediately. This can take time—and should begin to increase exponentially depending on demand.

Grant Countians on the whole don’t seem bothered by the theology of the creationists behind the Creation Museum in Boone County and the Ark Encounter. Answers in Genesis, the organization which built both, proclaims the earth is 6,000 years old and people lived alongside dinosaurs.
We don’t try to force people to believe all of our interpretations. But surely people can be challenged to rethink what they believe about the ancient past.

Many reporters have a fixation on what we believe about the age of the earth and dinosaurs. The Ark has three massive decks of world-class exhibits (and a zoo, petting zoo, and other facilities), mainly emphasizing aspects of the Ark, the animals, Noah’s life on board, and so on. And yes, we do take God’s Word in Genesis literally as it is written as historical narrative. (By the way, we don’t take the whole Bible literally since some passages are poetic and Jesus spoke in parables and so on.) But reporters who don’t understand biblical interpretation will often make statements as if they are theologically trained. And reporters usually neglect to mention that the exhibits are presented in a very professional way.

Furthermore, we don’t try to force people to believe all of our interpretations. But surely people can be challenged to rethink what they believe about the ancient past. We live in a society that allows the free exercise of religion! Yet often, secular reporters try to marginalize us as being on the fringe! Keep in mind that 43,000 families/individuals donated to the Ark project, knowing clearly what the messages would be in the Ark’s exhibits—and AiG has over a million people total in its database.

The Ark Encounter represents economic potential as much as religion for [Grant Countians]. Hotel managers in the area see the ark as a godsend.

Of course they do! Many people tell us they have had trouble finding rooms because hotels were booked out! The website of a third party that the Ark Encounter and Creation Museum link to for lodging has reported thousands of hotel rooms being booked—way beyond their expectation.

It’s filled hotel rooms along Interstate 75 in the past month. That’s unusual for an area that’s mostly farms and didn’t allow liquor sales until this year.

And if the hotels are filled, then restaurants will have lots of extra patrons, gas stations will sell more fuel and other items—and so it goes! Local residents have told me they’ve never seen waiting times like they now see at the Cracker Barrel at Dry Ridge.

Managers of the Microtel Inn and Suites and Hampton Inn in Dry Ridge both said they’ve been at or near capacity since July 7. Reservations have increased 45 percent this July compared to last at Microtel, said manager Malish Patel. Every room has been filled every day this month, he said. That’s not normal.

So yes, the impact is great! We’re glad the reporter acknowledges this. It’s almost as if the reporter wanted to write a negative story but has to acknowledge the impact of the Ark Encounter has actually been phenomenal.

“I see mostly churches, lots of groups, that fill in our rooms,” Patel said. “They’re really great people and have come from many different states.”

Yes, many hotel clerks tell us they host a wonderful clientele who are here for the Creation Museum and Ark—with so many children who are so well behaved. Christians are having an impact.

Ark a potent draw

The operators, Answers in Genesis, won’t release attendance figures to the media, but told Kentucky State Police 8,000 people went through the ship on a recent Saturday.

We need to have a year behind us to correctly interpret the numbers of Ark visitors and the trends. It is true that right now indications (and with future bookings) are that attendance will be way beyond the minimum (and closer to the higher figure) predicted by America’s Research Group. And if we did release daily attendance figures, we will find that they will get twisted and misquoted by secularists anyway. And most tourist attractions don’t release their figures for many reasons. But I can say that between the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, combined visits since opening are well above a quarter of a million.

That’s not far-fetched based on the crowd there at noon on Thursday. At least 500 cars from 20 different states and Canada sat in the lot in front of the ark.

So the Ark is impacting not just near but far! The unique aspect of the Ark and Creation Museum is that most visitors come from outside our tristate area of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky—bringing new money into the state of Kentucky.

Many people don’t make the trip to the region just for the ark. Conventions in Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati bus people in to see the ark then bus them back out. That means many of these people aren’t traveling around the countryside.

First of all, the majority of people come to the Ark in cars (some fly in and then rent cars). Some conventions do bus people in and out of the Ark—but many of these conventions also take people to other attractions too.

A banjo convention in Cincinnati on Thursday brought a couple dozen banjo pluckers from around the country to see the ark. They boarded a bus after their tour back to Cincinnati.

“This was on the program we could do,” said Sydney Aronis, a banjo player from Kansas. “I just thought it was out of this world, something you’ll never see again.”

Williamstown still a sleepy town

As a result, towns see some additional foot traffic but not much.

So because a couple of dozen people (out of thousands daily) came in a group and left, that’s supposedly why there’s not additional foot traffic in the local town?

A few miles from the ark, Williamstown’s streets could still be described as sleepy.

Williamstown does need some development and some anchor attractions downtown to get people to come—and it also needs some new hotels so people will stay in the area and search out what the town offers. It’s not the Ark’s fault that Williamstown has not seen an increase in traffic: new development is needed. I can see Williamstown becoming a quaint tourist town—but it needs some development itself for this to happen.

Part of the problem is that there’s nothing much to see in Grant County yet. Residents in December just voted to allow alcohol sales countywide. They still await to see any of the hotels and restaurants they hoped that would bring. For now, there are only a handful of restaurants, mostly fast food, along I-75, mainly in Dry Ridge.

And therein lies a problem. Exit 154 and downtown Williamstown need some new development. The reporter implies negatives against the Ark for not causing a bump in real estate prices and impact on the town of Williamstown—but then actually states a major part of the problem later in the article!

“We do have some (tourists) exploring downtown,” said Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner “As the merchants are getting more advertising with the ark, we’re picking up traffic, but it’s not been as immediate as we thought it might be.” Kentucky State Police said they’ve had no traffic problems or protests since the Ark Encounter opened.

We have agreed to hand out flyers, along with Ark tickets, that advertise Williamstown and Grant County as a whole (and any attractions/businesses). Williamstown officials are working on this brochure, which could help promote the area. The potential problem of traffic is why the Ark Encounter worked to bring vehicles into the parking lot so easily and quickly! The strategy worked—particularly while there were extended hours (until midnight) for the busiest part of the portion of summer the Ark was opened.

Exit 154 off Interstate 75 in Williamstown has returned to normal aside from the giant ark nearby. It was a different sight July 7; hundreds of atheists picketed on the exit and confronted some intrepid creationists that ventured into the protest. Traffic backed up onto the interstate.

Ah, no! There were not hundreds of atheist protestors! At the peak time of the protest, there were about 120 people, and reliable sources told me that probably up to half of these were Christians who went to witness to the atheists!

Northern Kentucky benefiting more

For now, Boone County to the north and Scott County to the south have seen the most residual business from the ark. Clegguart Mitchell, his wife and eight children traveled from Iowa to see the ark and are staying in Boone County. They’re camping in Big Bone State Lick Park [sic], a park known for its bones of mammoths that died there more than 10,000 years ago . . . at least according to conventional science.

Regardless of when the last mammoths died, the Mitchells will be spending money throughout Northern Kentucky during their stay. “Any attractions where you have people coming from all over the place, everybody around is going to benefit,” Mitchell said.

Even though it’s 40 minutes south of the Ark Encounter, creationists have stopped off in Georgetown where there are more restaurants, hotels and attractions. Gretchen Soards has seen many church groups in her antique shop in downtown Georgetown, Heirlooms & Gretchen’s. “I’m tickled to death it’s open and getting such a good following,” Soards said of the ark.

Actually, it’s not just “creationists” who have stopped off in Georgetown and other places. A variety of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds are coming to the Ark—including many nonchurched people.

Answers in Genesis expects the Ark Encounter to get only bigger. They’re planning to build an 800-seat theater this fall and winter behind the ark to do a variety of animal shows and lectures, said Mike Zovath, chief action officer for Answers in Genesis and project director for the Ark Encounter.

We do predict next summer will be bigger than this successful summer. I really trust developers and businesses will listen to us and not to the continual stream of negative, false information from the secular media and atheist bloggers. In a way, I think much of the secular media is responsible for part of the issue regarding the impact on the surrounding area, as they have spread so much false information about the Ark Encounter.

After that, Answers in Genesis wants to build on the site a recreation of an ancient walled city, what they conceive one would look like during Noah’s time. “I think we’ve been benefitting from the national publicity,” Zovath said. “People who were not planning to visit saw the big ark and thought it was worth coming to see. Ours is continuing in a good direction.”

Construction will be ongoing for years at the Ark Encounter. We have many additions coming soon, and many new phases are being designed right now. Also, 40 miles away, we are building a much larger parking lot for the Creation Museum and expanding this facility that has seen a 70% increase in attendance since the Ark’s opening (as local hotels can testify to!)

Not one cent of government money has been used to build the Ark.

Here’s the bottom line: Answers in Genesis has spent over $100 million in private funding (yes—all of it has been private, despite the continued false information spread by secular blogs and secular media) to build a world-class attraction (using many local contractors and purchasing from local businesses). Not one cent of government money has been used to build the Ark. Even the tourism sales tax rebate that we won doesn’t start kicking in until July 2017.

Ark Bow with Ramp and Zoo

This themed attraction is bringing in thousands of visitors daily from across the nation and around the world. The local community will see increased tax revenues in this year and a growing impact in years to come. Hundreds of people have been employed at the Ark Encounter, and many more jobs have been created in the surrounding communities.

AiG has marketed the Ark on major TV networks, in Times Square, on billboards throughout the nation, and we have used a variety of other media to promote the attraction. We have worked hard to ensure the Ark Encounter is of the standard and quality of a Disney attraction—in fact, as one secular reporter stated to me, “it’s beyond Hollywood” in quality.

The Ark Encounter can’t be held responsible for what others (businesses/developers) do or don’t do in the region. I challenge business owners and developers to take advantage of this big influx of visitors into the region to help their local communities prosper.

And how about the local secular media (like the Cincinnati Enquirer) acknowledging and thanking Answers in Genesis for promoting the many tourist attractions in the region on our Ark Encounter and Creation Museum websites—even though most attractions do not reciprocate. In fact, most tourist attractions don’t promote other attractions as we do.

Also, how about the local media thanking Answers in Genesis for employing over 400 full-time and 350 seasonal workers at its two attractions—and for creating thousands of other jobs in the local community!

I challenge others in the region to help build on the impact the AiG ministry, Creation Museum, and Ark Encounter are having.

Yes, Answers in Genesis is invested in the community. And we are thrilled to provide jobs and economic impact to families and businesses in the area. I challenge others in the region to help build on the impact the AiG ministry, Creation Museum, and Ark Encounter are having.

By the way, are the other tourist attractions in our area being held accountable by reporters for their economic impact as the Ark Encounter is held accountable by the media? Frankly, I’m tired of the obvious double standard. Many attractions in Kentucky have received the tourism tax rebate incentive, but have they been held accountable for impacting their communities, as many in the media are doing to the Ark Encounter? Unlike the Ark Encounter, which is totally privately funded, other museums in the area have received tax money to subsidize them (e.g., the Freedom Center1)—are they being held accountable by the media, as is being done with the Ark Encounter? And actually, it’s ridiculous to write an article about supposed economic impact in our region including real estate values after an attraction has been open for just 30 days!

As I already stated, AiG has done what we promised to do with the Ark Encounter. It’s now up to the local communities to take advantage of the Ark’s presence! It’s not the Ark Encounter that should be held accountable for what happens locally!

Footnotes

  1. Mark Curnutte, Cincinnati's Freedom Center Sheds Its Chains of Doubt, USA Today, August 2, 2014. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/02/freedom-center-sheds-its-chains-of-doubt-/13535459/.

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