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January 5, 2011

More theme parks coming to Kentucky

Calling Kentucky “America’s theme-park headquarters,” Gov. Steve Beshear announced on Tuesday several new tourist attractions under development, thanks to his administration’s aggressive policy of granting tourism tax incentives. The announcement comes on the heels of December’s disclosure of “Ark Encounter,” a creationism theme park set to open in Northern Kentucky in 2014.

“Ark Encounter is just the tip of the iceberg,” Beshear said. “In the next few years, we will build theme parks centered on a variety of topics, including evolution, Rastafarianism, wanton hedonism, Unitarian Universalism and Wicca.” All told, the theme parks are projected to pump $2 billion into the state’s beleaguered economy and provide 6,000 jobs by 2018.

The new parks, which seek to provide family fun while reinforcing visitors’ biases about a variety of controversial worldviews, could take some of the heat off Beshear, who was ridiculed nationally after announcing tax incentives for Ark Encounter.

“I’ve got to hand it to him — we thought he was pandering to fundamentalist Christian voters in anticipation of the coming election, but the governor is putting the state’s money where his mouth is,” said Warren Parks of the church/state theme-park watchdog group Americans Who Find God Amusing Enough On His Own. “I mean, evolution? Wicca? He’s really covering all the theme-park bases.”

The evolution theme park, which will be called Adaptation Station, is not without controversy. “To build a theme park based on science is a slap in the face of God,” said Crocodile Outback, founder and CEO of Lord is Money, one of the organizations behind Ark Encounter. “Evolution is a false doctrine meant to distract people from the one true word. And frankly, we’re tired of these heathens coming on our heels. If I had a nickel for every pair of wingtips they’ve ruined, I could build five theme parks.”

Adaptation Station, the first of the new parks to release detailed plans, will open in 2015 with a variety of rides, special effects and historical reenactments spotlighting proteobacteria, fungi, protozoa, mustard seeds, dinosaurs, chimpanzees and the human eye. The park’s signature attraction will be a life-size replica of the HMS Beagle, the ship on which Charles Darwin traveled from Plymouth Sound to Tiera Del Fuego and back. It was on that five-year journey that Darwin made many of the observations that helped him develop his theory of evolution, which has been linked to atheism, educational attainment, high incomes, gay monogamy and a taste for single-malt Scotch.

Adaptation Station will offer thrill rides, including the Geology Flume, the Fossil Whirl, the Big Bang, Genetic Swings and “X-Stink-Shun,” the “world’s first slow-motion bungee experience.” An ambitious, $10 million thrill ride called “The Coccyx” will treat riders to a journey on a disappearing vestigial tail. A “Heritable Traits Pavilion” will show visitors their likely cause of death and incorporate a House of Mirrors that will distort the slopes of visitors’ foreheads based on the amount of Neanderthal DNA present.

Adaptation Station’s backers, who include evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and talk-show host Bill Maher, said it’s too early to announce a location, other than to stress that it would be within an easy drive from Louisville’s Highlands neighborhood. Rather than competing for tourism dollars, the evolution and creationism theme parks will attract many of the same visitors, according to Beshear.

“Adaptation Station nicely complements the experience at Ark Encounter, and we expect many families from across the nation to attend both attractions while they’re visiting Kentucky,” he said. Asked by reporters about the controversial nature of the new projects, the governor was quick to distance himself from a personal endorsement of any park’s worldview. “I am a Christian, but it’s not my job to say whether the universe is 6,000 or 14 billion years old. My job is to attract theme parks so that people can visit them and decide for themselves.”

If the new parks catch on with visitors, more could be built in the future, according to Beshear. “Developers are understandably wary about the relatively new market for religious theme parks,” he said. “It’s an unproven marketplace. But if these attractions catch on, we know investors are waiting in the wings to develop more parks, including ones based on other popular religions like Star Wars, Apple’s iPhone and NCAA basketball.”