Brian’s Reflections on Activating a Not-so-New Park

Many thanks to Brain (K3ES) who shares the following guest post:

The Visitor Center at Kinzua Bridge State Park (K-1366) is well worth a visit.  It provides an excellent overview of the history, use, and collapse of the railroad bridge that gave the park its name, and it provides an excellent view of the pedestrian skyway built on the portion of the bridge that remained standing after the tornado that caused the collapse.

Reflections on Activating a Not-so-New Park

by Brian (K3ES)

Monday, April 3 was one of those beautiful, warmish (60ºF or 16ºC) sunny days in northwest Pennsylvania that remind us that spring is really here.  Only a week earlier, we had an unexpected snow fall that covered the ground (and it will likely not be our last snow of the season).  So my wife, her father, and the dogs all looked forward to getting out of the house to enjoy the weather.  We packed for a picnic, and drove through bright sunshine to Kinzua Bridge State Park.

After a picnic lunch, and while Becky and her dad explored the visitor center and walked the dogs, I set up for a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation of K-1366.  This would be my first activation of the park, but not my first visit.  I have been there several times before, including an excursion trip behind a steam engine that took me across the railroad bridge over Kinzua Creek and back.

A view from the visitor center of the pedestrian skyway.  It was constructed on the structure that remained after the bridge was struck by a tornado in 2003, causing its partial collapse.

An Historic Park

Kinzua Bridge State Park has an interesting history.  The railroad bridge that gives the park its name was originally built of wrought iron in 1882.  At the time it was built, the 301 ft (92m) high and 2052 ft (625m) long railroad bridge was the highest in the world.  It was rebuilt in place in 1900, replacing iron with steel, to strengthen it for the heavier trains that needed to cross.  The bridge remained in commercial service until 1952, and was later sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a State Park.  The bridge continued to support excursion trains and pedestrian traffic until 2002, but was struck by a tornado in 2003, causing its partial collapse.  Today, the remaining part of the bridge has been rebuilt as a pedestrian skyway, complete with a glass floor at its end to look down at the valley far below.

The visitor center provides an excellent multimedia overview of the economics, technology, and history of the structure.  It is well worth a visit.  Similarly, the skyway gives a spectacular view of the structure, the collapsed towers, and the surrounding Pennsylvania forest.  The park has picnic facilities and hiking trails, and a trailhead for the rail trail that has repurposed the old railroad right-of-way.

This is a view of the picnic pavilion from my operating position.  The picnic area also has a number of other open picnic tables and a playground area for the younger crowd.

The Setup for Activation

I stopped into the visitor center to let the staff know of my intention to activate.  I found them to be friendly and accommodating, which always makes activating a pleasure.  I do my best to be a good ambassador for amateur radio and the POTA program.

For activating, I set up at a remote picnic table.  Three tosses got the throw line over a good branch to support my Tufteln 9:1 random wire antenna.  A 15 ft RG-316 cable connected the antenna to my Elecraft KX2.  Completing the station were a 3 Ah LiFePO4 battery, a set of generic earbuds, and VK3IL pressure paddles.  I used a clipboard to keep my notepad from blowing around in the breeze, while I logged with a mechanical pencil.

The picnic table operating station used to activate K-1366.  Included are the KX2, VK3IL pressure paddles, clipboard and log.

The Activation

As I finished getting the station ready to go, it occurred to me that I had a frequency-agile-antenna and rig, a bit more than an hour to operate, and no other operators in the area.  So, I took the opportunity to try for contacts on as many bands as possible, inching my way toward the POTA N1CC Activator award for making contacts on 10 bands from 10 parks.  The park has good cell coverage, so I was able to use my phone to spot myself.  After that, I mostly left things to the Reverse Beacon Network and the POTA spotting gateway, but I was able to use the phone to confirm that my changes in frequency were picked up.

In 70 minutes of CW operation at 5 watts, I made total of 26 contacts, including at least one contact each on the 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, and 40m bands.  An apology to the hunters may be in order, because I was harder-than-usual to contact.  After making a contact on each band, I would QSY to the next at the first significant lull in the action.  I look forward to another trip back to K-1366 to try for contacts on the 3 additional bands needed to complete its activation toward my N1CC.

As you might guess, by using multiple bands, the contacts came from both far and near:  as far as Spain to the east and Oregon to the west, and as near as New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.  Middling distances were also well represented in the log.

It was a good day in the park, and here is the contact map from a 7-band activation of K-1366.


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This outing made for a fun and productive afternoon that was all the more enjoyable for sharing it with my family.

It also made for a great opportunity to shake off the winter blahs, and it held the promise of beautiful spring and summer days for more park activations.

Best 73 de Brian – K3ES

Here is a bonus picture of another semi-famous bridge in northwestern Pennsylvania (it actually has its own Facebook page).  This is Nebraska Bridge, which provides a convenient shortcut across Tionesta Creek.  We knew we would have to take the long way around, but stopped for a look anyway.  Unfortunately the bridge floods several times a year (sometimes becoming completely submerged), because it is located in the upstream end of the reservoir behind the Army Corps of Engineers’ Tionesta Creek Dam.  We had over an inch of rain last week, so the bridge is partially under water.  On the brighter side, 100 miles downstream, the City of Pittsburgh did not flood.

2 thoughts on “Brian’s Reflections on Activating a Not-so-New Park”

  1. Thank you Brian. Your write-up is a good reminder to all to take the time to understand why the state or national park we are operating from was created in the first place. Many have surprisingly wonderful stories/histories behind them. I find this park’s story fascinating (in part because I’m a bit of a train buff) and will make an effort if ever in the area to visit Kinzua Bridge State Park.

  2. Thank you for sharing this wonderful field report, Brian! I look forward to visiting Kinzua Bridge State Park next time I’m in your neck of the woods.

    I can tell you love that VK3IL pressure paddle!


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