- - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

HEBRON, Ky. — Tucked away in a nondescript office park in northern Kentucky, Noah’s followers are rebuilding his ark.

The biblical wooden ship built to weather a worldwide flood was 500 feet long and about 80 feet high, according to Answers in Genesis, a Christian ministry devoted to a literal telling of the Old Testament.

This modern ark, to be nestled on a plot of 800 acres of rolling Kentucky farmland, isn’t designed to rescue the world’s creatures from a coming deluge. It’s to tell the world that the Bible’s legendary flood story was not a fable, but a part of human history.

“The message here is, God’s word is true,” said Mike Zovath, project manager of the ark. “There’s a lot of doubt: ‘Could Noah have built a boat this big? Could he have put all the animals on the boat?’ Those are questions people all over the country ask.”

The ark will be the centerpiece of a proposed $155 million religious theme park, called the Ark Encounter, and will include other biblical icons such as the Tower of Babel and an Old World-style village.

It’s an expansion of the ministry’s first major public attraction, the Creation Museum. The museum opened in 2007 and attracted worldwide attention for presenting stories from the Bible as historical fact, challenging evolution and asserting that the Earth was created about 6,000 years ago.

“The ark is really a different approach” than the museum, Mr. Zovath said. “It’s really not about creation-evolution; it’s about the authority of the Bible starting with the ark account in Genesis.”

Inside the ark’s headquarters in Hebron, a small team of artists and designers is developing the visuals. Once the project begins early next year, hundreds will be working on the creation. They will include a team of Amish builders from Indiana who will erect the giant ark.

Many of the same people who helped design the museum are on board for the ark project. One of them is Patrick Marsh, who helped build some of the attractions at Universal Studios in Florida.

Mr. Zovath said the ark will have Old World details, such as wooden pegs instead of nails, straight-sawed timbers and plenty of animals - some alive, some robotic like the Creation Museum’s dinosaurs. He said it has not been determined how many live animals will be in the boat during visiting hours, but the majority will be stuffed or animatronic. At their count, Noah had anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 creatures on the ark.

There are a handful of replica arks around the world, but Mr. Zovath said this one will be authentic inside and out.

“When you get to walk through the boat and see how big this thing really was, and how many cages were there, and how much room there was for food and water … our hope is people start seeing that this is plausible, that the account could be believed,” Mr. Zovath said.

A longtime critic of the Answers in Genesis ministry argues that the attraction will bring in converts to creationism by challenging scientific findings about the world’s history.

“Many think that since creationism is so irrational and so unscientific that nobody really could believe it, but that’s not so,” said Edwin Kagin, a lawyer in northern Kentucky who is president of a nationwide atheist group. The new park will be “so slick and so well done, you can get people to believe in anything. Creationism, when you’re ready to believe anything.”

The Ark Encounter won’t be the nation’s first theme park inspired by the Bible, or the first with Noah’s big boat. A park in tourism-rich Orlando, Fla., features a portrayal of the Crucifixion by actors six days a week, along with Jesus’ Resurrection and gospel concerts. The Holy Land Experience opened in 2001, but the nonprofit park struggled with debt before it was taken over by Trinity Broadcasting Network in 2007.

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