It has been almost a year since Ark Encounter opened near the northern Kentucky city of Williamstown, and Ark co-founder Mike Zovath said the attraction will have its millionth visitor by July.
While a steady stream of visitors has flocked to visit the ark and the nearby Creation Museum, the impact on Williamstown’s economy has been far less than what many local residents expected.
Shem’s Snack Shack, named for Noah’s son, is the “Home of the Ark Dog” — two-thirds of a Biblical cubit long.
The snack shack is owned by Charleston, W.Va., doctor Brian Plants, a longtime donor to the Answers in Genesis ministry of Australian Ken Ham, whose vision has brought the Creation Museum in Petersburg and Ark Encounter, which opened last July. Plants thought it would be a good idea to capitalize on the hordes of hungry tourists who would descend on Williamstown after touring what’s touted as the world’s largest timber frame building in the shape of a boat.
Plants’ partner, Matt Griffith, who moved to Williamstown from West Virginia in September 2016 when he opened the restaurant, readily admits those hordes have not yet appeared. In fact, he closed it for three months this winter.
Stormey Vanover is less hopeful. She has operated Country Heart Crafts on Williamstown’s Main Street for the past nine years and said tourists haven’t visited her store as she had expected.
Grant County Judge-Executive Steve Wood has heard all the complaints. Dry Ridge, about five miles north on I-75, has seen an uptick in hotel and restaurant business, but Williamstown, which sits farther off the interstate, has not appeared to share in the bounty.
Wood said tourism revenue is up based on hotel tax receipts, but as the one-year anniversary of Ark Encounter approaches, he said he doesn’t think the benefits are yet outweighing what Grant County and the state gave away.
Answers in Genesis received a generous combination of state and local incentives, acknowledging in numerous documents that without them, the $100 million attraction would not be built in Grant County.
Visitors to the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter are, for the most part, deeply religious people who are coming to see those two attractions and nothing else. That’s why the Ark Encounter is thriving but not the nearby communities. If that does not change, the impact of the two Answers in Genesis projects is likely to remain minimal.