Those looking to plan their next summer vacation for 2016 now have a brand new tourist attraction to consider. A Noah's Ark-themed amusement park, costing $30 million, will open on July 7 next year in Williamstown, Kentucky, the park's founder announced on Thursday.
The park will be called "Ark Encounter," and will feature a 500-foot wooden replica of the ship from the Biblical story of Noah. It is the first phase of an 800-acre park that will later feature other Old Testament-themed attractions, including a walled city, the Tower of Babel, a live petting zoo, theater, and restaurant.
Ken Ham, president and chief executive of Answers in Genesis, the fundamentalist Christian organization behind the project, announced the opening date at a press conference and said the park expects to attract at least 1.4 million people annually.
"It'll certainly be one of the biggest Christian attractions in the world," he said from the site of the park in Williamstown, Kentucky. Smaller Noah's Ark attractions already exist in Denmark and Hong Kong. Answers in Genesis say on their website that Ark Encounter will be the biggest wooden sculpture in the world.
The project attracted controversy soon after it was announced in 2010. In February of last year, Kentucky awarded the park's developers potentially more than $18 million in tax incentives over 10 years.
But the state revoked the credits last December after developers said they would only hire workers who shared their fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Ark Encounter officials then sued the state in federal court in February to get the incentives reinstated.
"We make no apology about our Christian message," Ham said in a post on the organization's website last week. "We have never hidden the fact that our purpose is to spread the truth of God's Word and its life-changing gospel message."
Ham also made headlines last year when he got into a televised debate with Bill Nye the science guy about evolution versus creationism.
Tickets for Ark Encounter, called Boarding Passes, will go on sale in January through an online reservation system. An individual three-year pass costs $1,000.
But those looking to be an early visitor to the park better act fast — in anticipation of the large crowds, attendance will be limited for the first 40 days and nights, in reference to the length of the Biblical storm. Ham said the park has the capacity for about 16,000 visitors a day.
Answers in Genesis also runs the Creation Museum, 40 miles north in Petersburg, just outside of Cincinnati. The organization believes the world is about 6,000 years old and events in the Bible, such as the creation of the Earth in six days, happened as they were written. About a third of American adults believe that humans have existed in their current form since the beginning of time, according to a 2013 Pew poll.
The park needs another $6.5 million to complete the Ark, which they hope to raise through ticket sales and private donations. The total cost for the first phase of the park is $91 million and Ham said they have already raised about $80 million.
All photos via Answers in Genesis