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Attendance at Ark Encounter is picking up after a year lost to the pandemic. And for the first time all year, the numbers are finally higher than they were before the pandemic. Whether that translates to a boost in the local economy remains to be seen.

Thanks to a public record request by local paleontologist Dan Phelps, we now have the numbers for November. You can read more background about how it’s calculated here.

The bottom line? Ark Encounter had 44,291 paying visitors in November. That’s significantly higher than the 24,105 they had last November, but more importantly, it’s higher than the 37,686 they had in November of 2019. That sort of jump hasn’t happened all year. Does this mean their attempts to draw people in are finally on an upswing relative to pre-pandemic times? We’ll have to wait and see if this is a flash in the pan or the beginning of a trend.

Here are all the attendance numbers we know along with the Safety Fee that Answers in Genesis has paid to the city of Williamstown. (The public nature of that fee is how we know the attendance numbers at all.)

Over the past year, Ark Encounter had to postpone on-site conferences. Like other tourist attractions, they’ve also missed out on Spring Break trips, summer vacations, and warmer weather attendees in general. Most workers at the Ark were also temporarily laid off. They finally reopened on June 7, 2020, but until now, very few people had any desire to visit, presumably due to COVID. It looks like their winter draws are working as intended.

Keep in mind that the Ark’s parent company, Crosswater Canyon, received between $1 million and $2 million from the Paycheck Protection Program. And Ham also raised at least $1,135,009 in a separate fundraiser to offset COVID-related losses.

Finally, remember that actual attendance is higher than these numbers represent because kids get in for free, as do members with lifetime passes. But giving away freebies to children and life members doesn’t help the local economy as much as drawing in first-time customers who are ready to spend money or conference attendees who are there for another reason.

Furthermore, the stated attendance figures are far smaller than the 1.4 to 2.2 million visitors that Ark Encounter’s parent company predicted they would be pulling in several years ago.

On a side note, Ken Ham is flat-out lying to the media about attendance figures. In a story published in the Grant County News, Ham said “so far, attendance has increased by 42%, compared to pre-COVID 2019 numbers.” As you can see from the attendance spreadsheet, that’s not the case at all. This is the first month all year where current numbers are higher than their 2019 counterparts — and even then, it’s only about 18% higher.

Why didn’t the newspaper point that out? No clue. But it’s journalistic malpractice to just print Ham’s comments without factchecking him. His entire career is built on promoting a lie; no one who cares about truth should be helping him get away with it.

(Image via Shutterstock. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.