LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Kentucky museum where dinosaurs roam the biblical Garden of Eden is unveiling a national billboard campaign featuring the popular prehistoric reptiles.
The cartoon billboards for the Creation Museum are appearing in several cities including Chicago, San Francisco and Houston and feature colorful dinosaurs drawn in a vintage comic book style.
The popular attraction in northern Kentucky that opened in 2007 has drawn controversy and thousands of visitors with exhibits that challenge evolution and present the Old Testament's creation story.
Dinosaurs are at the center of campaign because they get the public's attention, said Ken Ham, founder of the Christian ministry Answers in Genesis.
"People love dinosaurs," Ham said. "Whenever a dinosaur exhibit comes to town, people are fascinated by that."
Ham said there are 20 different billboard styles, though some feature other prehistoric animals like mastodons. A billboard near Interstate 64 in Louisville features a flying pterodactyl and says the museum is "101 miles ahead." So far the signs have appeared in 25 states.
The high-tech museum near Cincinnati has animatronic dinosaurs, models and fossils, and teaches that the giant reptiles were created by God in a matter of days along with all other living things a few thousand years ago. Paleontologists say fossil evidence shows dinosaurs were present on the earth tens of millions of years ago, well before humans arrived.
Science educators that have long criticized the museum and said the Creation Museum's campaign is meant to attract young people interested in dinosaurs to a place that delivers a religious message and a version of history that conflicts with scientific findings.
"It's a hook, it's a bait to get people to say, 'Hey let's go to that museum' — and then the other message is brought out," said Steven Newton, a program director at the National Center for Science Education in Oakland, Calif.
Dinosaurs have been a draw to other museums and destinations for years. Perhaps the most notable is the Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil known as "Sue" at Chicago's Field Museum. In Kentucky, the Louisville Zoo is running a temporary exhibit this year with 12 dinosaur models and a fossil dig for children.
Newton said science centers should be employing powerful marketing strategies like the Creation Museum's campaign.
"I think it's a real shame that there aren't science museums that are competing in the same way, with the same sort of advertising with the same sort of budgets," he said.
Ham said Answers in Genesis spent about a half-million dollars on the campaign, but is asking museum members to chip in and sponsor more billboards to get them up in other sites.
Mary Allen, who lives near the Louisville billboard, said her 3-year-old grandson first noticed the pterodactyl sign, calling it "the big bird."
Allen said the sign is eye-catching, but said she hasn't visited the Creation Museum because "I just don't think that's how the world was created."