More of the Unexpected at Collier-Seminole State Park

by Teri (KO4WFP)

It was Tuesday, December 26th, the third day of my winter-break Florida POTA trip. As my brother Joseph and I were moving at a leisurely pace this morning, I decided to work in a quick activation at the campsite as the antenna was already in the trees from the prior night’s activation.

Even though this second activation at Little Manatee River wouldn’t count toward my 2024 goal, it was still a valid activation. POTA is like eating potato chips – You can’t do just one! I had five QSOs on 40 meters to begin and then 14 on 20 meters before calling QRT. We needed to get on the road and head south.

QSO Map for Little Manatee River SP Day Activation

My brother desperately needed a new Thermarest as the old one he brought on the trip was not working for his back. He had always wanted to visit an REI store. We found one in Sarasota-Springs and stopped by. He found a better sleeping pad and I found a few items I needed to add to my arsenal – a small brush for cleaning sand off items, a camp pillow so I didn’t have to lug my pillow from home in the future, more bug-repellant wipes, and a smaller quick-dry towel. Happy with our purchases, we resumed our journey southward.

We had lollygagged enough in the morning there wasn’t sufficient time for an activation on our way to the next camping destination – Collier-Seminole State Park (K-1847). The drive was nearly all interstate and not that exciting. It never ceases to amaze me how many people live in Florida!

Google Maps

Collier-Seminole State Park is located in southern Florida as you head toward the Big Cypress Wildlife Management Area and Everglades National Park. The Big Cypress Swamp was the last refuge of the Seminole Indians. Collier-Seminole State Park lies along the Tamiami Trail, a road from Tampa to Miami that was constructed in the early 1900’s and runs through the Big Cypress Swamp. An advertising mogul Baron Collier (for whom Collier County and Collier-Seminole State Park are named) was a significant investor in the Tamiami Trail and, in fact, bankrolled the completion of the east-west portion of the road.

After you enter Collier-Seminole State Park, on the right is the last existing Bay City Walking Dredge. This dredge was used to build the Tamiami Trail and would follow drilling and blasting rigs. The dredge dug a canal which provided rock fill for roadbed drainage of the completed road. It is a unique and huge piece of equipment.

Some parks are easier to activate than others. This was not one of the those. My first hint should have been when I was asked to read the rules when checking in. The first rule is nothing in the trees. I mentioned I am a ham radio operator and asked if it be ok to put an antenna up with an arborist line that won’t damage the tree. That request was met with an immediate and emphatic “No!” Rules are rules and, as I brought my hitch mount and SOTABeams mast on the trip, I could work around that restriction.

I planned to set up my antenna and get on the air in the comfort of my tent as I had at the previous park – Little Manatee River State Park. However, running right in front of our site and all through the campground were power poles. This campground was also much larger than our previous one. I wasn’t sure how much RFI I might get from the surrounding RVs and power lines as we appeared to be the only tent at this site.

While setting up, the campsite host came over and introduced herself. When I mentioned I am a ham radio operator, she said she remembered seeing a ham in the past in this park operating down at the docks on the Blackwater River. He set up his mast near the picnic pavilion there. I really, REALLY wanted to fit another activation in today and decided to attempt a quick activation as it was nearly sunset.

The parking lot at the dock was vacant. I pulled my vehicle in and began setting up near the boat landing. I could have (and maybe should have) opted for my 20-40 Pacific Antenna dipole. It had been quite awhile since I’d used it. However, the sunlight was fading fast and I figured I’d be able to deploy the EFRW quicker since I used it most often.

I hadn’t used the EFRW antenna in quite awhile with the SOTABeams mast. At first I couldn’t recall how to attach it. Then I remember the small attachment that comes with the mast to which I could attach the feed-end of the antenna with an S-carabiner and paper tape wrapped above it so it would not slide off as I raised and seated the mast on the hitch mount.

As I set up the antenna, the mosquitos began to hunt me in earnest. Remember those bug-repellant wipes I purchased earlier in the day? I grabbed one and smeared it all over any exposed skin areas. That kept them from biting me but not from driving me nuts while setting up my equipment. I usually sit in my Helinox chair in the open air for an activation; however, that was NOT an option tonight. I cracked the car window, dropped my coax in, rolled up the window near the top of the frame, and sought refuge in the car.

The activation itself was not the easiest either. Forty meters, the best band I figured for this time of day, was flaky unlike the previous night. Signal reports were variable, both on my end and the other. QSB was an issue. I was frequently interrupted by ops tuning up or other random transmissions. When I decided I had enough contacts and was going to call QRT, ops kept calling me (usually a nice “problem” to have). Finally someone started calling CQ on top of me and I figured that was enough of an excuse to call it a night. Given the difficulties I encountered, I was thrilled to log 21 contacts.

QSO Map for Collier-Seminole State Park

As I noted in my last article, expect the unexpected with POTA. Just because an activation begins or proceeds with difficulty doesn’t mean it won’t end on a good note. I braced myself for the onslaught of mosquitos upon exiting the car and discovered there were no mosquitos. They were gone! As I slowly and carefully gathered my equipment in the light of the full moon, I reflected on what I learned and might do differently next time.

At three days into the trip, I had activated five parks despite the weather conditions and having to divert from my planned itinerary. I was halfway to my goal of nine or ten parks for this trip. I lay in the tent that night under the full-moon thinking how blessed I was to be here doing what I love. Yes, the rain and mosquitos presented challenges, but challenges are good. They are an opportunity to learn and be flexible. Tomorrow would be a big day as I planned to activate two parks, both of which I knew nothing about. Flying by the seat of my pants, how would that work out for this POTA Babe? Stay tuned…

Equipment Used

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21 thoughts on “More of the Unexpected at Collier-Seminole State Park”

  1. I was at Rocky Mountain State Park and the Ranger blasted me for a wire on a branch and was going to charge me

    “I am a dumb canadian where we dont have those rules so I am sorry”

    Ok , get the wire down

    I used my 20m whip instead but the bands were very rough

    I use the hitch idea

    Teri, I should come to FL as my activation yesterday was -23 celcius with the wind chill. Coax was frozen and hard to un coil

    PotaOn friends!

    1. John:

      Wow! I can’t imagine living in let alone doing a POTA in those conditions. That is why I went south for my POTA trip instead of north this time of year. However, I’ll be out tomorrow in much chiller conditions than I prefer, though not nearly as cold as -23 celcius! I admire your tenacity, John, to POTA in Canada during the winter.

      Teri KO4WFP

  2. Great field report, Teri! We just missed each other. I was at Collier-Seminole on 11/30 and 12/1 and also ran into some unexpected problems before my activation. Not 15 minutes after parking my camper-van I attempted to open the powered awning. It opened…well, I should say it shot out like a bullet. I quickly turned off the power, but it was already mangled and wouldn’t retract. I waited several hours for my hero, a mobile mechanic who got it back together manually. With the help of some heavy-duty zip ties he made sure it wouldn’t pop out again until I got it fixed. The next day I was able to do my activation so the 2-night trip wasn’t a total flop! – 73, Paul

    1. Paul:

      Yes, this is the beauty (and sometimes frustration) of POTA – one never knows what might happen. It forces us to be flexible and think on our feet. And when events like this happen, we learn from them. I’m glad you were still able to activate on your trip.

      Teri KO4WFP

  3. Hi Teri. Great write up. Year before last, I switched to a 28.5′ Random Wire antenna with a 17′ counterpoise (I named it my K4SWL+ antenna). I use a homemade 9:1 UnUn and a 1:1 current balun. I use a trailer hitch mount that I can attach to my camper or my truck. I use a 31′ Jacktite Pole to keep it in the air. No wires in the trees and no holes in the ground. It keeps everyone happy. Here’s a look at it from my blog: I may do a blog post on the antenna itself. If you have questions shoot me an email.

  4. Scott:

    Thanks for your comment. I read through your post on your blog. Nice setup, especially since you can operate in the comfort of your camper! I need to make more use of the hitch mount & mast I have so using it becomes second-nature. I also made note of the heater you mentioned in your blog. Given where I live, I have less need of a heater and more need for a fan so if you have a small one you’ve used and like in your camping setup, please let me know.

    Teri KO4WFP

  5. Hi Teri and thanks for the great report!! We have done a fair amount of POTA camping here in the middle TN area over the past few years and have enjoyed it thoroughly. We plan to camp/POTA our way from TN to Grand Canyon in late spring, maybe I can work some of those elusive western states!!
    Pleas keep up the good work!! 72,

  6. Mike:

    Wow – A camp/POTA trip from TN to the Grand Canyon. That sounds awesome!

    I appreciate the encouragement, Mike, and the three contacts we made during my Florida POTA trip. I’ll put you in HamAlert and hopefully be able to return the favor during your trip out west.

    Teri KO4WFP

  7. I was at Collier-Seminole the night of the 27th, stopping there on a satellite roving trip in south Florida. Barely missed you! I didn’t know about the nothing in the trees rule, I guess it’s a good thing I ended up not having enough time for an HF activation from the park during my short stay. I was able to activate using the IO-117 digipeater satellite, but I have a tripod-mounted UHF yagi for that. The mosquitoes there were indeed horrible. I made the mistake of leaving my window cracked for ventilation that night and was absolutely devoured by those big hungry bloodsuckers. Other than that, it was a nice park, and the Everglades area is really interesting and deserving of another trip and some more activations!

  8. Teri,
    I often work from the car and when the weather is bad or the Skeeter count is high I use a pool noodle cut to size and sliced. The coax is protected, wind, rain and insects remain outside.

    Thanks for the stories.
    John, KK4ITX

    1. Duh? I left out the sentence…. I place the noodle over a window and roll up with the coax protected by the foam and the elements stay out.

      1. John:

        I activated today and was thinking I did not want to sit outside the car as it was in the 20’s F here. No one is selling pool noodles this time of year but Lowe’s has foam tubes for insulating pipes. I bought one this morning, took it with me, cut it to the right length, and voila – I sat inside the car in the warm sun the entire activation! It was wonderful. In fact, the temp got so toasty, I had to open the door twice to let in a little cool air. This “hack” is now a part of my car kit for POTA.

        Teri KO4WFP

  9. I do a lot of POTA hunting from various county parks along the Space Coast of Florida and have gotten away from using EFHW and other wire antennas since I got an AX2 from Elecraft. It never stops amazing me. KX2, 5W, AX2 and I can work at least 7 or 8 POTA stations in an hour mid morning. Picnic table makes it nice I can use the bipod support. Give it a try, and good luck on your trips, always enjoy your reports,

    1. James:

      I don’t have the AX2 but rather the AX1 in my arsenal. I appreciate you sharing your success with the AX2. As we know in ham radio, one can never have too many antennas – hi hi. It is always good to have options.

      Teri KO4WFP

  10. John:

    Thanks for the suggestion about the pool noodle. What a great idea that I will incorporate into my kit!

    Teri KO4WFP

  11. Hi Teri, It was good to make a contact with you at Little Manatee. I could hear you well at first, but by the end of our exchange, the band dropped right out. I am not sure if you experienced the same on your end. Mosquitos can be annoying for sure. I will swear they are the size of B52’s at times. I have use my WRC 213 in whip with the Sporty Forty coil in a mag mount on the truck for 40-6m when the “Skeeters” are bad for a fast deployment. Quick for take down as well. I have not run across not being able to use tree branches for antenna,s in our Provincial Parks in Ontario. Your posts are great. Look forward to your next one.

    72 Tim VA3UZ

    1. Tim:

      Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the four contacts we had during my trip to Florida. It is nice seeing a familiar call sign when you activate. Keep up your work with CW. Hope to see you on the air again in the future.

      Teri KO4WFP

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