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Christian group behind controversial Creationist Museum to build 800-acre theme park with replica Noah’s Ark

The biblical vessel would be the largest timber-framed structure in the US

The Christian group behind a controversial Creationist Museum in Kentucky has announced that it has sufficient funds to begin construction on an Old Testament theme park, based around a 510ft replica of Noah’s Ark.

The 800-acre “Ark Encounter” park would also feature a recreation of a pre-Flood village, a “Tower of Babel” containing an audio-visual effects theatre, and a theme park ride through the 10 plagues of Egypt. The biblical vessel would be the largest timber-framed structure in the US. Officials say they intend to break ground in May, and that the park will open to the public in 2016.

Ken Ham, president of the group Answers in Genesis and founder of the Creation Museum, wrote on his website that “God has burdened AiG to rebuild a full-size Noah’s Ark.” Yet after plans for the park were first unveiled in 2010, fundraising proved to be a challenge. The project is expected to cost more than $120m (£72m) in total, and needs at least $70m to complete its first phase. The ark alone will cost $24.5m to construct.

The park is being built by the founders of the Creation Museum.

AiG says it has raised $14.4m in private donations. Last year officials from Williamstown, the northern Kentucky community where the park will be located, offered $62m in municipal bonds to investors, most of which it claims to have sold. “God in His providence supplied our needs,” said Ham in his announcement on Thursday. “We’re going to begin construction, and this is going to be great for the area … Let’s build the ark.”

In the announcement on its website, AiG claimed the park would attract as many as two million visitors to the area in its opening year. Development studies conducted by the state are more modest in their predictions, but suggest the park could net the region $119m over 10 years.

The Ark Encounter Park would be 40 miles from Petersburg, home of AiG’s Creation Museum, which promotes the organisation’s literal interpretation of the Book of Genesis, and puts forward the belief that the Earth was created a mere 6,000 years ago. AiG and the museum have often been criticised for presenting their claims about Creation as fact. The new theme park could even face legal challenges from those who believe the state’s support for a religious-themed attraction violates the Constitutional separation of Church and State.

The the Old Testament is being given a new lease of life with upcoming Hollywood film Noah

This week’s announcement comes shortly before the release of Noah, a Hollywood blockbuster version of the Old Testament tale. The $125m film, directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Russell Crowe as Noah, opens in US cinemas on 28 March. Ham and his colleagues said the biblical epic would help to raise interest in their project, even though the Hollywood version takes “liberties” with the story of the Flood.

In a bid to appease Christian audiences concerned by the film’s divergence from the biblical text, Paramount Pictures announced this week that it had reached an agreement with the Christian group National Religious Broadcasters to append a disclaimer to Noah’s marketing materials, clarifying its relationship with the biblical version of the story. The message, which will appear on trailers and posters, reads: “The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic licence has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”