Ark the ultimate tourist trap

AND it will come to pass that on the third day of the fifth month of 2014, a mighty ark will appear on a hill not far from Interstate 75 so that the people of north-east Kentucky will not perish in a great storm and will reap great rewards of money and prosperity as the tourists there will multiply and buy many dolls in the likeness of Noah.

This is not Kentucky bourbon talking. The state is already home to the Creationist Museum - which for three years has been a point of pilgrimage for those Americans who are willing to believe that the world was created in six days and Darwin lost his marbles on the bridge of the Beagle.

But Kentucky is now embracing a creationist theme park with an ark built precisely to biblical specifications as its main attraction.

Already dubbed Ark Encounters, the park will attempt to capitalise on the success of the Creationist Museum, which was built by a religious group called Answers in Genesis and has already attracted more than a million visitors.

The ark will measure 500ft by 75ft, as it is described in the Old Testament. There is already a website and people can contribute funds to have their name attached to a peg, beam or plank - it is just $US100 ($NZ125.58) for a peg.

When it opens, the park will also offer the thrill of a recreation of the Tower of Babel, a walled city, a petting zoo and live animal shows featuring giraffes and elephants. It is not clear whether there will be two of every animal housed in the park. However, officials with Answers in Genesis said the purpose of building the ark is to demonstrate that it really would be big enough to hold two of every animal living on the planet.

That Kentucky is now becoming the creationist state in America does not sit well with everyone. Governor Steve Beshear guaranteed that the project would attract controversy by indicating this week that he is likely to acquiesce to a request that it be exempt from the state sales taxes, a gesture that is seen by some as tantamount to Kentucky supporting a religious organisation in violation of the separation of church and state.

The Rev Barry Lynn, the director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said: "It's perfectly fine for a private group to relaunch Noah's ark, but the Governor shouldn't go along for the ride."

Yet there is little sign that Mr Beshear will be impressed by the criticism. "The people of Kentucky didn't elect me Governor to debate religion," he said. "They elected me Governor to create jobs. That's what we're doing here, and that's what we're going to continue to do."

It is not just the success of the Creationist Museum, which features waxwork versions of Adam and Eve sharing exhibits with animatronic dinosaurs, that is encouraging the new park's investors.

They surely have also looked south to Orlando, where the Holy Land Experience, a theme park that offers thrice-daily re-enactments of the crucifixion of Christ, is thriving and recently pocketed the industry's top award in 2010 for innovation. Certainly the project seems to offer economic relief for a part of Kentucky that has been weaning itself from a decades-old reliance on tobacco growing.

The new park is projected to generate $214 million for the state just in its first year of operation and create 900 new jobs.

The website, meanwhile, encourages a little light reading. Click the "article" tab and you will be directed to a piece entitled Introduction of Noah and the Wickedness of Humanity. The "article" is, of course, merely Genesis 5:28-6:12.

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