Visitors to the life-sized Noah’s Ark attraction near Northern Kentucky are sinking below the number of projected visitors advertised by the owners of the religious-themed park.
The Ark Encounter sold a little more than 860,000 tickets between July 2017 and June 2018, according to open records obtained by The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes the separation of church and state.
When the park opened in 2016, park officials anticipated 1.4 million to 2.4 million yearly visitors.
A spokesman for the park said the foundation’s figures for ticket sales are accurate but noted that it doesn’t represent how many people actually visited the park.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
Ark Encounter spokesman Mark Looy estimated that 1 million guests came to the Ark Encounter last year, and on busy days, between 7,000 and 8,000 people visit the park. He said attendance has been growing since the park opened two years ago.
“We are like most attractions in that we don’t release annual attendance figures,” Looy said in an email. “Furthermore, one can’t look at ticket sales to come up with the grand total.”
Looy said he couldn’t specify the total annual guests because, in part, children under 5 years old attend the park for free.
“Thousands and thousands of young children under 5 who have visited the ark in the past two years have attended free with their families, and they will not show up in the 862,471 amount,” Looy said.
Ark members with lifetime passes or annual memberships do not come up in the final ticket sales, either, Looy said.
For attendance to be 1 million visitors at the ark park, 14 percent of all its attendance needs to be free or non-ticketed, according to The Freedom From Religion Foundation.
The Ark Encounter showcases the biblical narrative of the great flood in Genesis by displaying a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark that spans 510 feet long, 85 feet wide and 51 feet high.
On the ark there are various exhibits and animal statues, including robotic dinosaurs. Answers in Genesis, the group behind the park, argues that humans and dinosaurs co-existed, though dinosaurs went extinct nearly 65 million years before people appeared on Earth, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
When the park was being built, it won more than $18 million in tax incentives from the state, which outraged numerous groups, including The Freedom From Religion Foundation, because of the prospect of the state government interacting with a religious project.
The state tried to take away the tax credits because it contended the park was being used for religious indoctrination instead of a tourist attraction. But a federal judge ruled in favor of the Ark Encounter in July 2016, granting the park the right to the tax incentives.
After its first year, the Kentucky government cut the Ark Encounter a rebate check for $1.8 million.
“It is a shame that Matt Bevin and the Commonwealth of Kentucky continues to pay for this Christian ministry,” said Edwin Hensley, a co-organizer of Kentucky’s Freedom From Religion Foundation. “Last year Kentucky wrote a check to Ark Encounter for $1.8 million, refunding almost 80 percent of the $2.28 million sales tax revenue.”
The Ark Encounter is on an 800-acre site in Grant County and about 45 miles south of the Creation Museum, a sister attraction by the same Christian group, Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham.
Looy said numerous other expansions are planned at the park in the coming years.
“... We think the third year at the Ark will be just as strong as our excellent second year,” Looy said.
Admission to the Ark Encounter ranges from $15 for children to $48 for adults. Children 4 and younger are free, according to the website.