The Astrosphere, one of the iconic attractions at Funtown Splashtown USA in Saco, reopened Saturday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Jay Cote and Michael Lynch spent their childhood summers in Astrosphere heaven at Funtown.

They would bike to the Saco park every day with season passes in hand to ride the dark-light scrambler as often as summer heat and long lines allowed. They would later work the Astrosphere, initiating new generations to this beloved rite of passage, which is as much freaky light show as thrill ride.

Now adults, Cote and Lynch came to Funtown on Saturday to be among the first to ride a newly renovated Astrosphere. The old inflatable vinyl dome that used to house the scrambler was replaced over the winter by a new concrete one, enabling Funtown to install air conditioning and update the light show.

“I wasn’t going to miss it,” Cote said. “I’ve been riding the Astrosphere forever, then worked it, and now here I am again, this time for nostalgia. There’s no other like it. It’s got the best music, the best effects. It’s got a huge cult following.”

Not everything has changed. The signature soundtrack – Electric Light Orchestra’s “Fire on High” – still plays on. Some of the ride’s iconic artwork – like the red-eyed skull and the blue bunny – have come out of heat-induced retirement to once again frolic above the heads of wide-eyed children.

Kiersten Hushchild, 19, was one of those children. Like Lynch and Cote, she turned her love for the park into a job, but she said that riding the Astrosphere never felt like work, even if she was doing it during a lunch break. She met her boyfriend of two years when he was working the Astrosphere.

“Oh my god, the dancing blue bunny!” Hushchild said. “The first time I rode the Astrosphere, I was like, I don’t know, 8, and that bunny freaked me out so bad I made them stop the ride and let me out. The next year, I was like, oh look, the blue bunny, like it was nothing. Now I love that bunny!”

First opened in 1976, the Astrosphere remains one of Funtown’s most popular rides, according to marketing manager Ed Hodgdon. Parents who remember riding it as children now watch as their own teenagers wait in lines that sometimes stretch out past the soft-serve ice cream stand to give it a whirl.

The park owners decided to replace the ride’s vinyl bubble with a concrete dome over the winter to make it a turn-key operation, eliminating the need to construct and dismantle the ride at the start and end of a season. Now, with a flip of the switch and a little dusting, the ride can be ready to go each May.

The park hired Dome Technology of Idaho to design and build the 4-inch-thick structure, Hodgdon said.

The renovation also added air conditioning, which will come as a relief to both patrons and operators. In the hot August sun, temperatures inside the old vinyl bubble could climb as high as 109 degrees, melting the ice in the staff water cooler kept inside as soon as it was added, Lynch recalled.

The old vinyl dome, which measured about 75 feet in diameter, had survived heat waves, microbursts, a seemingly endless parade of regurgitated burgers, fries and cotton candy, changing musical and cultural tastes and even a fire in 1992 that required a patch job.

Funtown didn’t toss it, however – the yellow-and-white vinyl will be turned into high-end park souvenirs.

“If I can get enough of it, I can make my own little dome,” Hushchild said, laughing. “I think I’m joking.”


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