By 8 a.m. Thursday, people already stood in line, and an hour later, they stood outside a massive replica of Noah’s Ark, eyes wide at the sheer scale of what organizers say is now the largest timber frame structure in the world.
They came from other continents and various states to see the modern-day ark, and by all accounts, they weren’t disappointed.
“It’s neat to see this firsthand, because you can’t fathom the size,” said Stephanie Williams, who made the 9 1/2 -hour trip from New Virginia, Iowa, with her family for the opening day of the $100 million attraction.
“It was God’s perfect timing” that opening day coincided with the Williams family’s vacation to the ark, which features something for every age, including dinosaurs in cages and detailed engineering models of how Noah and his family might have gathered rainwater and gotten rid of animal waste.
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“I like all the animals,” said Owen Williams, 10.
Rhonda and Mike Keys drove from St. Louis, Mo.
“It’s so huge,” said Mike Keys. “We wanted to see the sheer size.”
The three floors of the ark are lined with exhibits, and people ascend and descend the floors along massive ramps in the center of the boat. The exhibits carefully lay out the belief of Answers in Genesis, the ministry that built the ark and the nearby Creation Museum, that the Earth is 6,000 years old.
For example, one display opines that fossils were created only through the flood instead of over millions of years. The ark also displays the living quarters of Noah and his family with full-size figures reading scrolls and fixing dinner.
A few dozen opponents of the park protested outside Thursday. They criticized its lack of focus on science and its policy of hiring only devout Christians. They also have balked at the religious organization getting an $18 million tax break from the state.
Another longtime ark skeptic, Dan Phelps, head of the Kentucky Paleontological Society, showed up for the opening on Thursday. Phelps said he was impressed by the boat’s wooden craftsmanship and appalled by its scientific exhibits, which he called “beyond pseudo-science, more like non-science.”
Answers in Genesis co-founder Ken Ham “has gotten everything he ever wanted,” Phelps said. “He has a second Creation Museum that’s shaped like Noah’s Ark. He’s the Ayatollah of Appalachia.”
AIG co-founder Mark Looy said 8,000 people showed up for a ribbon cutting Tuesday, and they expect more people for the official opening. Although forklifts drove around the newly landscaped areas outside the ark, the shuttle buses and guides were ready for full operation. Tickets are $40 for adults and $28 for children for a one-day pass.
Still to come is an $11 million improvement of the Interstate 75 interchange, which Looy said had met “a lot of resistance.” He credited state Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, for seeing the project through.
Georgia Purdom, a geneticist for Answers in Genesis, which also owns the Creation Museum in nearby Petersburg, said the Ark Encounter’s mission is to “share the Gospel.”
“We want them to know the Bible is true,” she said. “We want this to be as scientifically accurate, as well as biblically accurate as well.”
Visitors might be surprised at the sheer number of dinosaurs portrayed in pre-flood times, as well as on the ark, given that conventional science — along with standard carbon dating of fossils — holds that dinosaurs lived millions of years before humans. But Purdom said dinosaurs were land animals created on Day 6 of the world’s creation, so “there were between 60 to 90 kinds Noah would have had to take on the ark.”
That makes sense to William and Paula Day, who drove from Waycross, Ga., to see the big boat.
“A lot of information about evolution doesn’t make sense,” William Day said. “This is very, very well done. It’s tremendous.”
Several visitors came from even further away, including Michael and Renata Lynd and their five children, who drove 16 hours from Beaumont, Texas on Wednesday night in order to get to Williamstown for the opening.
“This is a big deal,” Michael Lynd said. “To be part of something we believe is epic.”
Byung Kap Jeong, vice president of the Korean Association for Creation Research, also wanted to be at the ark for the opening day. His group wants to build something similar in South Korea, but said he faces an uphill battle because most people believe in evolution.
“We are confronted with a lot of negative ideas about the Bible,” he said. “But we are strongly prepared to talk about our struggles.”
Hours, ticket prices
What: Ark Encounter, Williamstown
When: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 5 p.m. until midnight, for 40 days starting July 7. Day times only after first 40 days.
Tickets: $40 for adults; $31 for 60 and older; $28 for ages 5 to 12; free for ages 4 and younger.