A life-size replica of Noah’s Ark that is being built in Grant County is on track to open July 7, its founder said Saturday.
Ken Ham, president and chief executive officer of Answers in Genesis, which is building the tourist attraction, gave a group of journalists a first peek inside the ark Saturday.
The massive wooden structure is the centerpiece of a $100 million park called Ark Encounter. It is built according to the measurements given in the Bible — 560 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high.
It sits 15 feet off the ground and is anchored by attached towers that house elevators, stairwells and restrooms.
“We had to do a lot of things for code that I’m sure Noah didn’t have to do,” Ham said with a grin.
A 2,100-seat restaurant will be built nearby, and another restaurant will be developed on the ark’s top deck. The lower deck will feature a gift shop.
All the wooden planks in the ark laid end to end would reach from Williamstown to Philadelphia.
While animals are being sculpted to go inside the ark, there will be a petting zoo outside.
Shuttles will transport visitors from a 4,000-space parking lot to the 200,000-square foot ark.
Aside from being the weekend closest to the Independence Day holiday, the date 7/7 is significant, Ham said, because Genesis 7:7 describes Noah and his family entering the ark.
He said the structure is about 60 percent complete, and he believes it will be ready by then.
Inside the ark, 132 bays, or room-size nooks built along the walls, will house exhibits on a range of topics related to the flood and depict what the inside of the ark might have looked like.
Wooden cages have already been brought in to showcase the sculpted animals, and bays are labeled with names such as “Shem’s Bedroom” and “Noah’s Kitchen.”
Electric lights are being tested that are made to look like oil lamps.
“I would say they’re going to be working on exhibits up until one hour before opening,” Ham said.
After the ark is finished, Ham said a replica of an ancient “walled city” will be built adjacent to it. The idea is to represent civilization before the flood, including “Noah’s house.”
Ham said 200 acres of the 800-acre property have been permitted for development in future phases.
Attractions planned for the site include a “first century village” depicting life at the time of Christ, a “Tower of Babel” and a zipline course.
Tickets went on sale online in January, and Ham said “thousands” have sold so far.
He said he’s hearing that local hotels “are already booked out for the week of opening.”
Projections estimate at least 1.4 million visitors a year, Ham said, though a separate economic impact study estimated just under 500,000 visitors in the first year.
“This is going to get far more people than the Creation Museum,” he said.
Ham said he believes the park will be “a worldwide attraction” that will attract Christians and non-Christians alike.
While Ham said dinosaurs will be among the animals represented on the ark, that is not as much of a focus as it is at the Creation Museum.
“This has a different sort of emphasis,” he said, “answering questions people have about the ark and the feasibility of it.”
He said a host of craftsmen has been working on the project, from seamstresses making clothing for Noah and his family to woodworkers building working wooden carts.
“People are going to be fascinated by just the detail that has gone into all these,” Ham said. “They’re exquisite.”
He said a wooden ramp will be built leading up to the ark, and he envisions parades going up into it “just like you (see) at Disney,” only with characters portraying animals and Noah’s family.
A journalist on the media tour asked Ham about his belief in the biblical story of Noah as a historical event, in contrast to scholarship that views it as a work of Hebrew literature not intended to be read literally.
“Jesus referred to Noah,” Ham responded. “He’s referred to as a real person and a man of great faith.”
He said modern scholars who do not agree “have a particular view … and they’re imposing it on Scripture. It would come down to two different approaches to Scripture.”
A federal judge ruled last month that the state violated the First Amendment rights of the developers of Ark Encounter when it blocked them from tourism tax incentives that could allow the park to receive up to $18 million in sales tax rebates.
Ham said the incentives have not been approved, but he said the judge’s ruling paves the way for that to happen.
Critics have questioned the employment practices the facility will follow.
Ham said guidelines for employees of Ark Encounter are still being finalized but “will be different than Answers in Genesis.”
“We will definitely have certain things for people to adhere to,” he said.
Despite criticism and legal wrangling, Ham said the project has gone “quite smoothly” overall.
“Most of the scoffers and those that are criticizing us, they’re from a small group,” Ham said. “They’re in the minority.”