WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. (WDRB) – It has been one year since the giant representation of Noah's Ark set sail in northern Kentucky, and Answers in Genesis, which built the attraction, said it has made good on its promise to bring a flood of new tourists to the area.
Tim and Marcy Easter drove from North Carolina specifically to see the ark.
“Growing up as a child, you hear all the Bible stories about Noah and the ark and all the animals," Marcy Easter said. "It's kind of fascinating about the thought of seeing how big it really is."
The Easters are among the one million people the developer said have visited the ark since it launched a year ago.
“It’s been a blast," said Mike Zovath, a co-founder of Answers in Genesis. "The attendance has been huge."
Zovath said the one million who have come through the gates is slightly below the one-and-half to two million the Ark Encounter projected. He said that is because it opened a year ago in the middle of tourist season.
“We've got no complaints," he said. "We brought over a million people to Grant County already, and that number just continues to climb."
But is the ark also lifting the local economy?
"In the beginning, we really didn't see a whole lot of influx from the ark traffic,” said Bren Murphy," who owns a coffee shop in downtown Williamstown.
Murphy said after a slow start, she is starting to see new customers and new business owners.
“New purchasers have taken over a lot of the buildings," she said. "There's a lot of rehab going on in the beautiful, eclectic town, so that's a good thing."
Murphy said plans to improve signage should help point more ark visitors to Williamstown.
“We're bringing a million in. Now the local areas need to figure out what to do with them, how to keep them here,” Zovath said.
And the Ark Encounter continues to add attractions, including a zip line, to keep tourists coming.
“Pigeon Forge didn't happen in a year period of time," Zovath said. "It took some time."
That time will be spent attracting people such as the Easters, who said Kentucky was not even on their radar for a vacation spot ... until the ark.
“We're going to go to Louisville tomorrow, and we're going to see where they make the bats, and we're going to see the racetrack and Ft. Knox," Tim Easter said. "[There's] a lot of things to see around here."
Zovath said work could begin on Phase 2 by 2019. That will include a 2,500-seat auditorium and a walled city.
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