More Surprises in Florida

by Teri (KO4WFP)

It is Friday, December 29th and my winter-break POTA trip is drawing to a close. My brother Joseph and I are spending Friday and Saturday nights at an Airbnb after six days of camping. However, before we do that, I have two more parks to activate today – Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve (K-5330) and Lake Apopka North Shore (K-8353).

Google Maps

Overnight, a cold front began its march through Florida. We woke to temperatures in the low 50’s and a brief glimpse of the rising sun before clouds took over the sky again.

The drive to our first park – Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve – was a pleasant one. The preserve is divided into five management districts. We ended up in the West Tract as that is what I chose in Apple Maps. There are 65 miles of hiking trails though the tract is also used for hunting, canoeing, fishing, camping, and equestrian activities. There is a variety of habitats in the preserve – sandhills, flatwoods, oak hammocks, river swamp, and cypress ponds.

I chose an oak tree just inside the West Tract entrance perfect for the Tufteln EFRW antenna. A sunny location was necessary as the temperature was chilly in the breezy conditions. As I set up, two ladies rode in with their horses. Salty, a red roan, was unsure of Daisy and I at first. However, he eventually settled down enough to walk by and check out my POTA flag. Being a horse owner previously, I have a soft spot for these intelligent and sensitive creatures.

Salty and his owner

When Salty moseyed on, Daisy and I got down to business. I went straight to 20 meters which had no noise at all. In 35 minutes, I had 20 contacts. I needed to wrap up the activation soon to have sufficient time to fit in the second activation today but thought I’d check 17 meters for any DX contacts. I had four contacts on that band including Etor FH4MN in France!

QSO Map for Green Swamp Wilderness Preserve

In short order, I packed up my equipment and we headed to Lake Apopka with a stop at Costco for gas. On the drive, we saw five sandhill cranes. I had heard sandhill cranes at Little Manatee River State Park while walking Daisy one day. But I never spied them. These cranes were wary of me and the pictures I snapped weren’t great.

We finally arrived at Lake Apopka North Shore which features an 11-mile wildlife drive. The park reminded me of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge back home in which I’ve spent some time. Lake Apopka is the headwaters of the Ocklawaha Chain of Lakes. The North Shore area consists of former farmlands that are now used to clean up Lake Apopka’s waters by circulating the lake water through restored wetlands thereby filtering it before it is returned to the lake. Those former farmlands polluted the lake with phosphorous which caused a host of problems.

We opted to take the wildlife drive through the preserve. Along the drive we saw numerous birds including American coots, American purple gallinules, egrets, herons, ducks, and other birds. We also spied an alligator as well as an otter running along the dyke on which we were driving.

As you can see from the pictures, there aren’t many trees along the drive and whatever trees are there, they are not that tall. I stopped after the first mile of the drive at Conrad Road which runs off to the left at a water gauge station. There were actually trees here and, though they weren’t as tall I would have liked, they would work.

Funny story: When we stopped at this junction, we parked next to a family that had just gotten back into their car from a hike. The man leaned out his car window and asked if we wanted to see “some big-ass alligators”. Trying to not burst out laughing, I told him we were from Savannah, GA and had seen plenty of big alligators there.

It wasn’t long before the EFRW was installed and Daisy and I were settled. I scheduled both of the day’s activations the night before; however, it appeared the Lake Apopka activation didn’t upload. I then discovered the cell service at this site was abysmal – neither texts nor phone calls would go through. Arrgg! One last thing to try – maybe there was enough service I could spot myself. Surprisingly it worked.

I started with 40 meters and had no luck on that band. I moved to 20 meters and in 30 minutes, logged 14 contacts including another contact with a French op – F5VMN – which surprised me on that band. (He did give me a 339 which I thought was great for 5 watts at that distance!) At this point, I had to call QRT.

QSO Map for Lake Apopka North Shore

We arrived at the drive around 2:45 PM. The drive is estimated to take one to three hours (though I didn’t know that beforehand). We stopped at 3 PM for my activation. I was on the air by 3:20 and off by 4:05. All visitors are supposed to be off the drive by 5 PM when the gate closes. We were cutting it close if the drive takes an hour as the least amount of time. I put away my equipment in 10 minutes and we were on our way. We did make it to the gate just at 5 PM but only because I drove a little faster than the 10 mph speed limit which made my brother quite nervous.

It was a busy week, driving and tent camping for six days. It was time to return to civilization with a stay at an Airbnb in Umatilla. Joseph was ready for a meal we hadn’t cooked at the campsite so we celebrated with a burger and fries from Five Guys. Oh, the joy of not fighting mosquitos and the creature comforts of a climate-controlled space, readily available electricity, and a bathroom you don’t share with lots of other people.

As I reflected over the week, it had been a wonderful experience. I learned a lot about camping and improvements I wanted to make. I had nine (yes NINE) valid activations due to the kindness of operators hunting me. I experienced the beauty of natural surroundings I had not visited before. I had the privilege of sharing time with my brother Joseph and my POTA pooch Daisy.

But wait! Just like a Ginsu knives commercial, there’s more. The trip isn’t done yet. I planned to squeeze two more activations in on Sunday, December 31st, on the drive home. Stay tuned…

Equipment Used

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7 thoughts on “More Surprises in Florida”

  1. Just really enjoy Teri’s activation reports. POTA is so much more than just another part of the hobby!!

  2. Looks like you are having a great time in our parks in Florida. Lots of parks to work POTAs.

    We in Hernando Amateur Radio Association (2 counties north of Tampa on the west coast) will be doing Winter Field Day at the Scout Reservation on SR50 few miles of US19 (wonder if you had the displeasure of driving on US19 that runs up the north west coast of Florida).

    Might be good for you to visit our WFD site this Sat & Sun. The reservation is 1100 acres for the scouts, but they let us have our Winter FD and also our HamFest, Feb 17th there.

    73, ron, n9ee

    1. Ron:

      Thanks for the invite. Unfortunately I will not be able to join y’all for Winter Field Day. I just moved and am in the process of getting settled. However, the invitation was thoughtful and I’ll make a note in my calendar to consider it next year.

      Teri KO4WFP

  3. I just LOVE your POTA reports Teri! So much that I have an alert setup on my phone whenever you are spotted. I jump on my radio and check if I can hear you. One of these days Teri, one of these days 🙂 Keep them coming ! 73 Val DM1TX

    1. Val:

      I am glad you are enjoying the trip reports. I have had a QSO with Thomas DM1TBE so a QSO for the two of us is a possibility. Thanks for your patience and support.

      Teri KO4WFP

  4. Teri,
    I loved reading about your activations and being such an inspiration to me . Take care my friend.
    Your South Carolina neighbor ????

    1. Robert:

      I looked up Hartsville, SC on Google Maps and it is a three-hour drive from the Savannah area. So it is not next-door but close enough to be considered neighbors in my book.

      I appreciate the compliment. I am honored to share my activations with everyone and hope that inspiration motivates you to step out of your comfort zone and pursue whatever goals you have for yourself in ham radio. That is how we learn and grow as ops in this wonderful hobby.

      Teri KO4WFP

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