Righting America

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Counting Visitors at Ark Encounter | Righting America

by William Trollinger

In Righting America we took at face value what Answers in Genesis (AiG) had to say about the Creation Museum, and then we tested these claims.

It makes sense to do the same with Ark Encounter. One place to start is the feasibility study produced by America’s Research Group (ARG) – headed up by Britt Beemer, Ken Ham’s friend and occasional co-author – to accompany the 2013 issuance of bonds worth $62 million, bonds which make possible the construction and equipping of the first phase of the Ark project. According to ARG’s feasibility study:

“The Ark Encounter is expected to attract between 1.2m and 2.0m visitors . . . during the first year of operation.” (A-38)

Breaking down the numbers:

1.2m/year = 100000/month, 23077/week, 3315/day

1.6m/year = 133333/month, 30769/week, 4420/day

2.0m/year = 166667/month, 38462/week, 5525/day

Given these projections, we expected an enormous opening day crowd. But as we previously posted, when we left the Ark just after noon on July 7 not one single person was in line to buy a ticket, and most of the eight parking lots were empty. Other observers noted the same thing, and some wondered if the non-seaworthy Ark had already sprung a leak.

But the Ark’s opening day was a Thursday. What would it be like on the weekend? So at 9:00 AM Saturday, July 23 we plunked down another $80 to re-enter the Ark and promised each other we would leave by noon.

Given that this project really needs repeat visitors, Sue focused on how folks were engaging or not engaging the Ark. More on what she discovered in a later post.

Because Bill loves tedious tasks, his job was to count visitors. This job was made much easier by the fact that the Ark is designed for visitors to follow a clear path through each floor and then – via the large ramps – up to the next floor. Because we arrived just a few minutes after the Ark opened, Bill was able to skirt the crowds and head up to the second floor (no one was yet on the third floor) where he counted everyone. Then it was back down to the first floor, where he secured a spot by the ramp to the second floor. For over two hours he counted everyone going up. At around 11:30 Bill made one final pass through the first floor, and then we headed to the gift shop.

Of course his numbers are not definitive. A few people may have been missed, a few people may have been double-counted. Still, his numbers provide a nice snapshot.

From Bill’s count, between 9 and 11:30 AM there were 1646 visitors on the Ark, children and toddlers included.

We chose to be there in the morning because that seemed the most likely time for visitors to arrive, especially those who were part of church groups (and we spotted at least five groups). But given that the Ark is currently open until midnight (!), we want to allow for the possibility that 2/3 of Ark visitors showed up after noon.

So for the purposes of our guesstimate, let’s triple the attendance numbers. Let’s say there were 4938 visitors on July 23.

At first glance that seems very good. Reach this total every day of the year, and you have almost 1.8 million visitors.  But wait. The Ark would have to reach this total every day of the year. According to Gallup, more Americans vacation in July than any other month (on average, 51% of Americans who plan to take a vacation will take it in July). And we were there on a Saturday. What happens on a Wednesday in November, or a Thursday in January, or a Tuesday in March?

Thinking about it this way, 2m visitors or even 1.6m visitors for the year seems, at best, highly improbable. Actually, 1.2m visitors seems very unlikely. Surely at least half of that number – 600,000 – need to visit the Ark during the 92 days of June, July, and August. That means 6522 visitors EVERY DAY in the summer. And that’s almost 1600 more than our guesstimate for Saturday, July 23, 2016.

Perhaps Ken Ham and AiG have everything in hand. But we wonder if any bondholders are feeling uneasy about their investment, especially given that the feasibility report claimed that “the 1.2m first-year attendance scenario [will be] followed by annual attendance increases” (Appendix A, 13).