A Project of Biblical Proportions

In northern Kentucky, a major theme park of a different kind is growing in a big way.

Mon February 29, 2016 - National Edition
Brenda Ruggiero

In northern Kentucky, a major theme park of a different kind is growing in a big way.
In northern Kentucky, a major theme park of a different kind is growing in a big way.
In northern Kentucky, a major theme park of a different kind is growing in a big way. A rendering of the completed ark.

In northern Kentucky, a major theme park of a different kind is growing in a big way. On 800 acres off of I-75 in Williamstown, the builders of the Creation Museum are constructing a full-size Noah's Ark as the park's centerpiece. It will be 510 ft. (155 m) long and 80 ft. (24.3 m) high. The full-scale, all-wood ark is being built based on the dimensions provided in the Bible (Genesis 6), using the long cubit, and in accordance with sound established nautical engineering practices of the era.

The project started in 2014, and is expected to be complete by next summer. The full dollar amount for the ark is $74 million. The Troyer Group in Mishawaka, Ind., heads the construction management team.

“The Ark Encounter is a one-of-a-kind historically themed attraction,” said Todd Geer, construction manager for the project and vice president of the Troyer Group.

The new attraction is within a one-day drive of almost two-thirds of America's population, and projections are for an estimated yearly attendance of at least 1.4 million visitors.

Currently, most of the shell is complete, and exhibits are being installed. The stern will be constructed after the main body of the Ark, with the bow to be added early in 2016.

Ark Encounter is a privately owned Limited Liability Company (LLC). Crosswater Canyon, a non-profit subsidiary of Answers in Genesis (AiG), will be the sole member and owner of the LLC and will also be the managing member responsible for day-to-day operations

Ken Ham, AiG's founder and president, recently announced that the ark will open to the public on July 7, 2016. In order to help accommodate the large crowds that are anticipated, Ham noted that the ark will be open for 40 days and 40 nights during the first 40 days of operation, in reference to the 40 days and 40 nights of rain when the Biblical flood occurred. After Aug. 15, normal operation hours will begin, unless the crowds continue to be large.

“We are so excited that the construction progress and schedule landed on this 7/7 date,” Ham said. Genesis 7:7 states that Noah and his family entered the Ark. So it's fitting we allow the public to enter the life-size Ark on 7/7.”

For the first 40 days, tickets can be purchased for visits from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. to midnight. The day and evening times will also offer some differing experiences. Anyone who has purchased a Charter Boarding Pass or has sponsored a plank or a beam will have access to a priority ticketing period beginning Jan.5. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Jan. 19.

“While the Ark Encounter will be able to accommodate 16,000 guests per day, our consultant's research has shown that we could possibly expect more than that during the first few weeks of opening, especially during the summer time frame,” Ham said. “So, to make sure this themed attraction remains an enjoyable experience for everyone, we are adding a nighttime shift for the first 40 days.”

When Ham announced the opening date, he stated that the majority of the funding for the Ark Encounter's first phase had been raised — about $80 million of the $91.5 million needed. He expected the rest to come in before construction is completed, including through sales of Ark memberships (called boarding passes).

Additional future phases for the attraction include a Walled City, the Tower of Babel, a first-century Middle Eastern village, a journey in history from Abraham to the parting of the Red Sea, a walk-through aviary, and an expanded large petting zoo.

According to Geer, challenges with the project include making sure all the materials arrive on time, working safely through a lot of overhead work, heavy equipment, and excavations, and the fact that it is a unique project that hasn't been done before.

The Troyer Group has one of the largest LEED certified (Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design) staffs in the Midwest. They plan to integrate solar panels along with passive solar, geothermal, water and wind technologies into the mechanical systems, as well as “some other innovative and sustainable technologies to maintain good stewardship during construction and for long-term operations.” They also plan to use as many local companies and locally manufactured products as possible in order to maximize efficiency while also enhancing the local economy.

The massive trees used in the construction of the ark were standing dead Englemann spruce that were over 200 years old. According to the website, they were responsibly harvested from a forest in Utah, where select forests managed by the forestry service harvest dead trees before they begin to rot and repurpose them before replanting. The logs are 66 ft. long and 50 in. in diameter, and each took six people two days to cut.

In addition to getting help from Amish workers using their woodworking skills, construction workers, both Amish and non-Amish, are using modern-day techniques and tools to build the ark.

Subcontractors include Accurate Masonry for building the towers (laying block); Applied Mechanical System for plumbing/waste/vent; D-crane for flying the timbers, bents, etc.; Sturm for temporary electric; McD Concrete for pouring landings/floors and pouring the columns/piers; Dalmatian for fire protections; Mark Spaulding/OKI for metal stud framing; Colorado Timber for organizing the timbers being used; Highline Construction for timber assembly and working on decking, flooring, and walling; Capital Framing for timber assembly, and working on decking, flooring, and walling; and Lehman Brothers for timber assembly and managing timber construction

AiG's Creation Museum, has been visited by over 2.5 million guests since opening in 2007. Last year, the museum unveiled a $1.5 million exhibit of an allosaur dinosaur skeleton, and hosted the Bill Nye/Ken Ham evolution-creation.

When all phases are completed, Ark Encounter plans to employ up to 900 full and part-time staff. It is anticipated that additional staff will also be added at the Creation Museum to support its expected attendance increase. The attractions are about a 45-minute drive apart.

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