Many thanks to Bob (K4RLC) who shares the following POTA field report from February 2023:
Dismal Swamp Activation – February 2023
by Bob (K4RLC)
The goal for this winter was to activate the Dismal Swamp in northeastern North Carolina, both as it is a relatively rare area, and during the summer it is full of critters like snakes, gators, bears, and mosquitoes as big as birds. So, in February I did a three day trip.
First, I activated the Dismal Swamp State Park (K-2727) in Camden County North Carolina, off US Highway 17.
This state park contains some historically important lands to the US. In pre-revolutionary times, George Washington actually bought some of the swamp land and attempted to drain it to make it farmland. His plan failed, but there is still a marker for his house on the Virginia side. Indigenous people lived here 13,000 years ago, and flourished off the rich fish and animal life.
During the Civil War, the Dismal Swamp was an important part of the Underground Railroad, for those escaping from slavery in the South to freedom in the North. Some slaves used ancient Indian villages as the foundation for building communities deep in the swamp. There are still remnants of this rich history. Originally, the Great Dismal was over a million acres, but now is only half that size.
To make this activation more interesting, you first must go to the Gate Keeper and sign in with your name and give the model and color of your car before you can enter the park. This is to keep track of lost souls who might wander off the path in the swamp, never to be found.
The Gate Keeper also controls the bridge over the Dismal Swamp Canal, which is part of the Intercoastal Waterway up the East Coast of the United States, sometimes called a water way Interstate. This canal was also historically important for transporting materials in the 1800s.
During World War II, when German U-Boats torpedoed merchant ships off the coast of North Carolina, the Dismal Swamp Canal became an important waterway for military transport. Once you enter Dismal Swamp State Park, there are several hiking trails along the Canal and back into the Swamp. One even takes you by a Moonshine Still which unfortunately was not still operating.
I set up the trusty ICOM-706 MkIIG at a picnic table on 20 meters CW, and soon had a nice pile up going. Someone spotted me on the POTA site and RBN. Soon, I was getting emails to my cell phone asking for contacts. Little did I know how rare Camden County was, especially on the 40 and 20 CW bands.
I wish I had had more time to explore Dismal Swamp State Park, including walking the 20 mile path along the Canal, but I wanted to go to the Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (K-0566) which was over an hour’s drive away, with the entrance across the border in Virginia.
On the way, I got an email from a ham in Hungary who needed a nearby county on 20 meters CW – Pasquotank County. Since it was only a bit out-of-the-way, I thought the least I could do was to drive there and help an overseas fellow ham.
I set up the rig in the back of a Truck stop parking lot, and was able to work Jeri on the first try on 20 CW. It was great to make someone very happy.
I then continued on my trip to the Virginia side of the Dismal Swamp. You drive way back in the woods and think you’ll never get there, only to finally see a small entrance sign. There is not much to the Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge other than a big, natural swamp. However, there is a 6 mile, one lane road that goes deep into the swamp to beautiful Lake Drummond. It’s origin is unclear, possibly from a meteorite strike or “the Fire Bird” of Indian lore – which could be the same event.
The drive was anxiety-provoking but pleasant ending at Lake Drummond, the second largest natural freshwater lake in Virginia. Lake Drummond also has an interesting history, in that its water was barreled for Transatlantic voyages before modern water treatment was developed. Its freshwater has tannic acid from the decaying vegetation, which keeps it fresh and tasty. Legend also has it that the lake may be haunted by ancient peoples.
I set up the station beside the lake and again ran another pile up. While the tripod was stable, the wind got gusty and blew the Buddipole over, breaking one of the whips. Fortunately, I had an extra whip and realized that to keep this from happening again, I needed to bungee the mast to a wooden railing.
On the way back to the campsite, the sun was setting, it was becoming dark, and you could hear the woods come alive with a symphony of frogs, cicadas, and animal noises. While lovely, I would not want to spend the night there. Historically, the Dismal Swamp has attracted several notable literary types, including Longfellow, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Frost; they came seeking solace in its darkness. Several poetic works are based on The Ballad of the Dismal Swamp by Thomas Moore (1779-1852), which is based upon this true (?) story:
“They tell of a young man, who lost his mind upon the death of a girl he loved, and who, suddenly disappearing from his friends, was never afterwards heard of. As he had frequently said, in his ravings, that the girl was not dead, but gone to the Dismal Swamp, it is supposed he had wandered into that dreary wilderness, and had died of hunger, or been lost in some of its dreadful morasses.”
As neither of the Dismal Swamp activation sites allow legal camping, the closest North Carolina State Park with camping is Merchants Millpond State Park (K-2745). This is a very nice, small state park with a lake of his own. There, I set up an inverted V for 40 CW the next morning on a push-up carbon fiber mast. This allowed me to work stations more local, especially Virginia, while also reaching stations in the Midwest & NY/NJ area.
One aspect of this activation that I did not appreciate ahead of time was the interest it evoked in county hunters. These are hams who try to work all 3000+ counties in the United States! I had emails when I got back from other hams who needed the rare counties in that area that I had not activated, or needed them on a different band. One was from a 90-year old ham who needed Camden County on 40CW to complete all 100 counties in North Carolina. I may go back just to help him.
The websites for the county hunters are Marac.org and Countyhunterweb.org. This is another way to get lots of CW activity while also making some hams really happy, especially if you activate from the rare counties in your state.
On this trip, there were no medical calamities like those I experienced on Stone Mountain, just a few token abrasions and lacerations.
I really enjoyed having the Solis Pocket, the smallest Winnebago built on a Dodge RAM commercial van chassis. There was no external power at the campsite, so I was “boondocking” it. The Solis is perfect for boondocking, as it has a 140 Watt solar panel on the roof, powering two 100 amp hour batteries. These power a refrigerator, LED lights, electricity for the water pump, and other DC current needs.
The propane tank on board powers a very nice Truma German built furnace to keep you toasty, as well as a two burner stove. It is definitely a step up from tent camping, but not as luxurious or bloated as some of the bigger RV vehicles.
Our large group will be at Stony Fork Campground in the Washington and Jefferson National Forest. It is near the Appalachian Trail and has many SOTA peaks nearby to activate. Please look out for our group when we’re there, as activators need hunters for everything to work out. Most of us have a KX2 type rig and only operate CW.
I encourage every ham to operate outdoors: whether from a nearby state park, a SOTA mountain peak, or an old volcano on St. Lucia – ham radio is better in the Outdoors!
73 de K4RLC Bob