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Ark celebrates 2nd year, eyes expansion

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By Amanda Kelly, Staff Writer

 

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With the Ark Encounter’s second anniversary of its opening in the rear-view mirror, Answers in Genesis (AiG) Founder and CEO Ken Ham has expansions planned through 2019 to keep visitors enticed. 

“As the Noah’s Ark replica sails into its third year of operation, the additions and projects underway at the theme park will have fans returning again and again as we expand,” Ham said. “Just about every successful museum or zoo we have toured for ourselves has told us that their attractions need to be refreshed every year or two so that visitors might return. You can’t remain static and hope to succeed.”

The Ark Encounter has finished and is working towards several new attractions on the ark grounds. 

• A large 2,500-seat auditorium inside a multi-purpose facility will open in late 2018 next to the Ark. The Answers Center will include a 36,000-square-foot basement with classrooms and breakout areas. 

• The Ararat Ridge Zoo will be doubling in size by the summer of 2019. Tibetan yaks, zebras, alpacas, emus, kangaroos, camels and reptiles will continue to call the zoo home with the expansion. 

• A new, large children’s play area is planned for a spring 2019 opening. 

• A new Monument Walk is now open on the east side of the lake, guiding guests to the Ark entrance while educating them on major biblical events in Genesis that lead up to the flood. Exotic birds are also exhibited in the Monument Walk. 

• Rainbow Gardens on the way to the zoo grounds, in which flowers recreate the rainbow in Genesis 9. 

• An expanded buffet at Emzara’s Kitchen. 

• New food and shopping venues in the Village Market on the west side of the lake. 

Ham boasts more than two million people have visited the Ark Encounter since opening July 7, 2016, and attendance is expected to continue to increase for AiG’s sister attraction, The Creation Museum. 

“We are so blessed to have seen over one million guests visit the Ark Encounter in our second year,” Ham said. “Almost all attractions see a drop in attendance after the initial excitement of the opening year wears off, but we have experienced another remarkable year. Numbers are even higher than our excellent first year, partly because so many motor coach tours, a 20-percent increase, are arriving daily.”

Grant County Tourism/Economic Development and Chamber of Commerce Director Jamie Baker said the Ark has brought in the thousands of people they promised would come when the Ark was built. 

“We, as a community and business owners, have to work cooperatively to develop a plan of how we are going to get those visitors to leave the Ark and explore the rest of what Grant County has to offer,” Baker said. “We are working on several projects to promote and market Grant County to our visitors. I hope to have some part-time staff in place very soon at the William Arnold Log Cabin, so it can serve as a mini visitor’s center to educate guests on what is available. We are also working on some directional signs, as well as community projects to make our community more inviting.”

Tourism spending in 2017 increased by 10.4 percent, Baker said. Local tourism supports nearly $80 million in total tourist spending and 1,455 jobs. 

More than $8 million has also been created in tax revenue in 2017 from tourism in Grant County, which meant the county’s 8,325 households paid $1,000 less in state and local taxes in 2017. 

Williamstown Mayor Rick Skinner said he expects to see new developments in the coming year in Williamstown, two years after the Ark opened. 

“I am excited that the Ark continues to draw large number of visitors to Williamstown and Grant County,” Skinner said. “I think as investors see the success of the Ark that they will look to Williamstown for future development.”

While visiting the Ark on July 13, many families strolled through the exhibits slowly, sifting through the crowds on a sunny, hot summer day. 

The Ai family from Hickory, North Carolina, and their grandmother, Cheryl Lee of Orange County, California, spent time asking each other about the stories they read in the Bible while looking at the Monument Park and inside the ark. 

“I praise the Lord so I can see this kind of thing,” 12-year-old Bethany Ai said about when she first saw the Ark in person.

The Dearing family from Flushing, Michigan said they stopped off while on their way home from vacationing in Tennessee. Parents Greg and Tracey Dearing said they had never heard of the Ark Encounter before passing it on their travels, but children Gabrielle and Grace Dearing said they heard about it while in church from friends who had been. 

Amy Smith, a LaGrange, Kentucky resident, said she couldn’t believe she hadn’t been yet while visiting the Ark on July 13 since it was so close to her. 

Jean Bergren, a pastor from Kansas, said she didn’t realize how big the structure was until she arrived at the Ark. 

“The scripture doesn’t do it justice,” Bergren said. “It’s amazing the knowledge given to Noah to build it.”