Building Positive Park Relations: Elevating Our Role as POTA Activators

Our Parks On The Air (POTA) community has experienced exponential growth since my introduction to POTA activations in 2019. Today, POTA boasts over 500,000 participants, including both hunters and activators.

Gone are the days of awkwardly explaining our hobby to park staff who were unfamiliar with amateur radio, let alone park activations. Nowadays, when I approach park staff for permission to operate, they often direct me to areas where other POTA activators have set up in the past, showcasing a growing acceptance and understanding of our community.

Goal: Positive Impact

With such a large and expanding community, we have the potential to significantly impact our park systems positively. It is crucial for POTA activators to not only leave a positive impression with park staff but also actively support and contribute to the well-being of our parks.

Why now?

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for several months. I hesitated to publish it because of my inclination towards positivity and reluctance to dwell on the negatives.

However, recent conversations with park rangers and staff from three different sites between June and November last year prompted me to share these insights. While acknowledging that interactions with POTA activators are generally positive, all three shared some concerns and criticisms.

I was surprised, in one case, that they hadn’t banned POTA activators from their site entirely. (I detail two examples at the end of this article.)

I imagine each and every one of these park rangers has had more negative interactions with the general public, but we POTA activators and amateur radio operators are a cohesive community that they lump into one group for better or for worse.

For instance, while a rowdy family gathering might disrupt the peace in a park, it doesn’t lead to a ban on families. However, repeated negative interactions involving POTA activators could result in our exclusion from parks or even escalation to wider park networks since many individual parks are tied to state, provincial, or national park systems.

Indeed, this has already happened at National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia. Check out the following message posted to Facebook this week from John (AB0O) who is a US mapping volunteer for POTA:

Time to be a positive force!

As John states in his message above, it’s time for us to proactively become ambassadors for POTA and good stewards of our parks and public lands.

I could have easily titled this post, “Ask not what your park can do for you; ask what you can do for your park!”

Let’s delve into some simple suggestions that I personally follow. This list is not exhaustive, so I invite you to share your strategies for promoting POTA positively in the comments below.

1. Obtain permission before operating

Despite the temptation to activate first and ask questions later, it’s essential to seek permission before setting up your station in a park. Some parks may require written permission for activations, regardless of the setup’s profile or impact (remember Leo’s recent field report?).

While most POTA sites allow activations as long as park rules are followed and other visitors aren’t disturbed, it’s prudent to confirm with park staff or experienced activators when in doubt.

In my experience, asking for permission is particularly crucial in parks with historical or ecological significance and limited facilities.

A piece of advice: When seeking permission, showcase your most portable, low-profile radio gear to help park staff understand the minimal impact of your setup. Over the years, this approach has resulted in successful activations for me, with only one instance of declined permission, primarily due to supervisor unavailability.

2. Choose inconspicuous locations

At the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, I received permission to operate and I set up my station well outside the viewshed of the lighthouse.

When setting up your station, avoid obstructing viewsheds or high-traffic areas within the park. Instead, opt for spots away from major attractions or foot traffic, ensuring minimal disruption to other visitors’ experiences.

Most POTA sites offer designated picnic or parking areas that are suitable for activations without interfering with scenic views. When uncertain, seek guidance from park staff to identify suitable locations.

3. Default to low-impact, low-profile gear

Unless you know in advance that a park allows wires in trees, stakes in the ground, or other antenna support structures, default to your most portable, low-profile, low-impact field setup.

Unless explicitly permitted, refrain from deploying antennas in trees or using stakes that could damage park grounds.

I believe every POTA activator should possess a compact, self-supporting antenna system to minimize environmental impact. Additionally, consider operating from your vehicle if uncertain about setup requirements.

An NC State Park ranger told me last fall, “I like to see POTA activators that aren’t taking up a lot of space and yelling at their radio.

Let’s not be the guy or gal he described!

4. Leave No Trace

Adhering to the principles of Leave No Trace is paramount during POTA activations and other outdoor adventures. Always dispose of trash properly and, if at all possible, pick up any litter you encounter at your operating site. My goal is to always leave the site cleaner and tidier than I found it.

In my backpack and car, I keep small litter bags along with nitrile gloves so that I can pick up and dispose of any trash I find.

Over the years I’ve operated POTA, park rangers and game wardens have caught me in the act of collecting trash and thanked me. I made a point of telling them that I’m an amateur radio operator doing a POTA activation. I feel like this can only leave a positive impression in their minds and help future activators who might seek permission to operate at a particular site.

Want to go a step further?  Consider organizing group clean-up events with your amateur radio club. This collaborative effort not only benefits the park but also strengthens park and community ties.

5. Support your park financially

Show your appreciation for park access by contributing financially, especially at smaller locations with visitor centers or donation boxes. Whether purchasing items from the gift shop or making direct donations, your support is invaluable in maintaining park facilities and programs.

For instance, during a recent visit to a historic site, I made a point to purchase items from the gift shop and donate to the park.

The park rangers thanked me and noted that another frequent POTA activator also donates a bit of money or buys something in the shop each time he visits.  They pointed out how much they appreciate that type of support.

While I usually prefer inconspicuous contributions, I intentionally inform park staff of my status as a POTA activator during these interactions. This transparency reinforces the positive image of amateur radio operators as park supporters.

6. Respect park operating hours

Ensure that your activations align with park operating hours to avoid overstaying your welcome. Familiarize yourself with park schedules and plan your activities accordingly to minimize disruptions and inconvenience to park staff.

I learned this lesson firsthand during an activation at Lake Norman State Park in 2021, where I unintentionally extended my stay past park closing hours. This happened during the week they shifted from more liberal summer hours, to winter hours. I was apologetic to park staff. Since then, I make a conscious effort to wrap up my activities well before closing time and communicate my intentions with park staff if I feel like I might cut it a bit close.

Be a POTA Ambassador

Vlado (N3CZ) draws a crowd on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

By following basic guidelines like these, POTA activators can cultivate positive relationships with park staff and demonstrate our commitment to responsible outdoor recreation.

As POTA Ambassadors, let’s engage with park staff, address any concerns they may have, and showcase the respectful conduct of our community. Listening to their feedback and acknowledging past issues can help mitigate negative perceptions and foster mutual understanding.

Real-word example

During a visit to a new-to-me urban park last year, I proactively sought permission to operate, considering the site’s limited space and popularity among POTA activators. Park staff appreciated my courtesy and expressed gratitude for my considerate approach.

Our conversation revealed previous negative experiences involving POTA activators. These included instances where operators failed to comply with park rules and even exhibited disruptive behavior. For example:

  • One operator tried to set up an antenna by tying a short 2×4 to fishing line and attempting to throw it into a tree. However, this park prohibits the use of trees for antenna support, and his “method” was causing damage to small branches. When asked to refrain from using the tree, the operator became confrontational, insisting on his ‘legal right’ to do so. Despite the staff’s polite explanation of the park rules, the operator angrily packed up and left.
  • Another incident involved a mobile activator who parked his truck in the park’s small lot, occupying three parking spaces, while deploying a hitch-mounted vertical. With a public event underway and all parking spaces occupied, park guests raised complaints. Despite staff requests to reposition his truck to free up space, the activator responded angrily, rolled up his window, operated for a few minutes, and then departed.

Despite these incidents, the staff emphasized that they were exceptions rather than the rule. They mentioned several regular activators whom they enjoy interacting with during their visits. Undoubtedly, these individuals serve as POTA ambassadors, exemplifying our community’s respect for parks and public lands.

Privilege and Responsibility

Wiseman’s View in Pisgah National Forest (K-4510)

While our tax dollars support public lands, park staff retain the authority to regulate activities that may impact park ecosystems or visitor experiences.

The recent notice regarding National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia serves as a reminder of this privilege and responsibility.

Let’s strive to represent POTA activators positively and proactively contribute to our parks’ well-being. Together, we can ensure that future generations continue to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of our public lands.

What are your strategies? Please share your tips and advice in the comments section!

37 thoughts on “Building Positive Park Relations: Elevating Our Role as POTA Activators”

  1. Thank you, Thomas. I have almost 50 activations at Ft. McAllister State Park, K2175, near Savannah, Ga. The staff know me by name and I have a great relationship with them. It only takes a few “entitled” selfish slobs to ruin things for all. I don’t know what can be done about these outliers. I’m sorry that I can’t offer any helpful suggestions.

  2. Well stated, Thomas. The bad apples, very few as they are, have a much larger lasting impact that the majority/respectful operators – so we must make an effort to keep the positive light bright!

  3. This is a great article and really needed to be addressed before things get out of hand. It’s a very tasteful approach Tom.

    My favorite local park is very lax on any rules. Not sure if it has to do with it being a state park maintained by the local county. Lately I’ve been setting up away from the bulk of high traffic areas. I make sure to leave it better than I found it. The few interactions I’ve had with park staff have been very positive and I’ve even joined them in helping to keep the park clean by picking up litter with them.

  4. Thank you for such an excellent article. It is a privilege to have so many outstanding parks we can visit and set-up; it is our responsibility to not only protect than name of amateur radio, but also our parks.

  5. “I like to see POTA activators that aren’t taking up a lot of space and yelling at their radio.” – QRP cw is the way to go, use headphones if there are people about. I don’t know anybody, who is not a ham, that finds cw to be anything but noise.

    Put other people and the quality of their park experience ahead of your own.

    Talk to people! When approached by park staff/rangers or even other visitors, choose to engage with them in a friendly and cordial way. It’s not a contest, the “pileup” can wait.

    It’s simple, treat parks as part of our common wealth and treat people as you want to be treated.

  6. Act in a kind and respectful manner, and you’ll be welcomed back. Educate and involve others… and you’ll plant the seeds of curiosity.

  7. This is, IMO, the most important post you have ever made Tom.
    Like you, I always have garbage bags and nitrile gloves in the truck, and will remove litter from the sites I visit. I use a BuddiPole antenna, and employ the well-known electric fence post for its countepoise … however I constructed a simple wooden platform for it which negates ever having to stick it in the ground.
    On those occasions that I have encountered park ranges, I’ve engaged them in conversation that I’m pretty certain left a positive impression.
    It ain’t difficult, but it’s so important to our hobby.

  8. Wow- thank you for your feedback and suggestions! I had no idea there were issues like this, especially given the positive general reputation of operators and amateur radio in general. I hope to do my first activation this summer. Based on your article and the feedback, I will look for a POTA Elmer and read as much as I can to prepare. You brought up small footprint antennas for POTA- good topic for articles and hamfest presentations, especially for HF QRP operations. POTA is a great opportunity for furthering the positive reputation for amateur- don’t want to mess this up! Thank you.

  9. Thomas, this is a great post and thanks for doing it.

    There are 2 parks in the Florence, SC area that my friends and I activate regularly. Actually, several HAM’s in our local club frequent these parks for POTA activations. The rangers and staff know us because we’ve introduced ourselves at every opportunity. We never pass a donation box without making a contribution.

    One of our members has made several weekend HAM radio presentations at one of the parks at the request of the ranger. Attendance gets bigger each time.

    About this time last year, a park ranger came up to me during an activation and asked if I was part of a HAM radio club. I said yes, and he asked if we would consider helping with a horse endurance ride that he was organizing at a nearby National Forest that had no cell service. He wanted us to set up relay stations along the course to make sure there were no lost or injured riders or horses. While I’m mainly an HF operator, our club members jumped at the chance to set up portable VHF and UHF repeaters in the field and coordinate remote operations. Other clubs joined in as well. While a little chaotic at times – over 100 riders – the event was a success. Because our club was there, an injured horse was able to get immediate assistance.

    There are a lot of ways we can support the parks that support us. You’ve inspired me to add a few extra minutes to each activation to pick up trash.

    As POTA continues to grow, I think we all need periodic reminders about our responsibility to keep these parks accessible to our hobby.



  10. I like to practice a leave no trace but if putting a stake into the ground is a problem then I will use my Buddistick more often using tripods for the main vibrator and to hold up the counterpoise at the far end.

    I will leave the power ground rod drill and asphalt cutter tools at home if operating parking lot style.

    Maybe we had it right in the old days with a 102” whip and a coil or a Hustler kit with all the resonating vibrators?

    Blame it on the end fed antenna!

    I took some extra space in the parking lot to avoid anyone parking up against my drive on mast. Well, she drove into the spot anyways and exited her car from the passenger side because she realized she could not get out. Nice hiker with a $2000 handbag on her arm and kitten heels. So, if I cant get a proper spot to deploy a drive on or trailer hitch mast , I will need to go with the tripod mast. This is where the Chameleon MPAS or Buddipole kit lends itself to deploying the bits to match your environment.

  11. Seeing the handwriting on the wall I moved to a vertical antenna over a year ago. This is the one I use the most:

    This is an antenna I use for quick day activations I can also mount this one on a tripod.

    I have never had a problem with either of these antennas at a park. I also do either CW or FT8 so there is no noise footprint either. It pays to be a good neighbor.

  12. Great post and great comments, thanks everyone. Many thoughts on this…

    I’m blessed to live in a very rural, low population area. I encounter very few people in the parks I go to, and it’s easy for me to make sure that I’m not noticed or distributing anyone. I’ve almost never encountered a ranger or park employee.

    I don’t even understand people who talk loudly on hiking trails! Parks are there for everyone to enjoy, so we should be doing everything in our power to avoid disturbing others (including wildlife). I approach nature with respect and reverence and wish everyone did so.

    To me, there are two parts to the POTA experience: the “P” and the “OTA”. Enjoying the Park and being a part of it is as important and fulfilling as being On The Air.

    I find it slightly surreal when I see photos of people set up in a park with a table, 100w transceiver, large battery, etc., reporting how they made hundreds of contacts. No criticism intended, it’s their business, not mine. But for me personally, portable operating is all about being small, light, and stealthy. (I first came to QRP portable via the HFpack route. This “outdoor radio” stuff isn’t so new, you know!) I’m continuing to try to reduce the size and weight of my gear. For me even a small number of contacts is a success if I’ve had a pleasant outdoor experience (YMMV, of course).

    I monitor a KX2 Facebook Group. Any time someone posts about the AX1 there’s always a comment or two about how it’s a lousy antenna, a waste of money, 30 dB down from a “real” antenna, you should put up a dipole, etc. I never respond to those comments (DFFT — don’t fee the trolls 🙂 ), but to me those commenters “don’t get it.” I can’t go pedestrian mobile with a dipole, I probably can’t be stealthy with a dipole, and I can’t have minimal impact with a dipole. I can’t be much lower impact than occupying a 2 ft. by 2 ft. space sitting in a camp chair with a handheld KX2, AX1 whip, paddles strapped to my leg, and earbuds in my ears. Yes, I often operate SSB, but only if no one is around to hear and be disturbed.

    I do use end fed wires wherever I’m sure no harm will be done and I won’t interfere with anyone else. I sometimes use a truck-mounted telescoping mast and sloping wire (usually tied off to a ground stake), but that’s usually in very remote locations on National Forest land where no one else is around (probably for miles).

    “Preaching to the choir here.” I’d better move on before I fall off my soap box. 🙂 72/73 All!

  13. Well said, Thomas. This must be taken seriously. Even though most of my Parks in my area are Conservation land, it is a great reminder when doing a rove out of your area.

  14. I mean no harm with this commentary. I have never activated a park but I love the constant stream of QSOs. It’s so cool when you want to show someone how your radio works and it takes about a minute to find a 30 second QSO that the current popularity of POTA offers.

    It’s a great point that a rude family could come in, offend everyone within earshot with foul language and just being loud and rude, then leave a big mess….and they aren’t going to just stop families from coming to the park because of it.

    Thomas is basically the poster child for how you should do this, but not everyone has his personality. I’ve watched a ton of his videos and they’re really helpful. It’s great he makes an effort to not record random people and that probably takes quite an effort at times. I am not a social butterfly, and I don’t even like my picture taken, so I have noticed this repeatedly, and even though I’m not there, I appreciate it. This is an example of the type of thoughtfulness that will always keep him welcome places. When someone is ignorant, it’s often because they apply a belief they have to a very narrow span of bandwidth. The same is true with just how people interact with other people and Thomas sees a really wide chunk of bandwidth.

    Now to really get to the negative stuff. Think about your image. (I’m not talking about Thomas, you look and act normal) I see on the internet all the time, pictures of guys playing radio…and when you go out in public have on a dumb looking hat with 50 pins stuck all over it that are about nothing anyone cares about…and have on a ridiculous looking vest with 400 patches in the same vein as the pins…they look stupid. I’m sorry, they just look dumb. People are going to wonder what their problem is. They MAY have gotten permission to activate in this park, but now the staff may have to field questions and devote more time than they should have to, because guests are inquiring what this weird guy is doing, and if this is a problem, all because they had to put on a ham radio uniform. Do your best to look like a normal guest like everyone else.

    Yes, this is a potential opportunity to advocate for the hobby. BUT you are not there to advocate for the hobby, you are there to participate in YOUR hobby. If someone is interested and has questions, that’s awesome…BUT do not be an exhibitionist. You are not there to put on a show and other people are not there just to watch/listen to you. Most people aren’t going to think it’s cool when the volume is maxed out…they are going to think it’s annoying. They may have gone there for peace and quiet and they have a right to that.

    Which brings me to another point…it just is not that important. If the park is crowded, or there is something going on that would make it inconvenient…leave. Yes, you have a right to enjoy the park too, but if it’s going to make it more complicated, and people are going to be in the way of setup, or walking through your feedlines, etc, just go somewhere else. It’s just not that big a deal, you can operate portable anywhere, even if it’s not K-124whatever. This is not professional radio, this is amateur radio.

    This has already been long-winded, but here are some examples of how forcing your way into crowded or busy situations just so you can play have negative consequences for your peers:

    First, this is kind of like fishing. Have you ever been in a boat, and someone else pulls up in their boat seemingly oblivious to how the tide and the wind works and they anchor right on top of you and a few minutes later their boat is swinging back into yours and their fishing line is all tangled up in your anchor rope? It’s infuriating. They probably didn’t do that on purpose but they were all caught up and feeling justified in wanting to enjoy their hobby and now they’ve made a mess and now they’re angry because everyone is angry at them.

    Secondly, what about that adult guy who’s riding his bicycle in the street in your residential neighborhood? You’re driving behind him, and he’s kind of off to the side but he keeps swaying back towards the middle of the road. You’re afraid you might hit him if you try to pass him and you’re wondering why he’s so oblivious. Yes, he has every right to ride his bicycle in the street, but he’s going 11MPH and you have some place you need to be and he doesn’t. He may think he’s justified for wanting you to share the road, but he’s actually the one who’s having trouble sharing right now. Maybe you’re not an avid bicyclist, but you don’t have anything against it either, you may even think it’s cool, but today, in this instant, this person has unknowingly ticked you off and you’re thinking negative thoughts about bicycles and recreational bicycling all because one person was so caught up enjoying their hobby that they either didn’t notice or didn’t care that they inconvenienced you. Your number 1 job is to NOT inconvenience people when you’re out there doing whatever it is you like to do.

    So while most hams can do exactly what Thomas does, and go above and beyond, clean things up, contribute cash, buy stuff in gift shops, etc. It only takes one instance of one ham getting caught up in his own hobby and inconveniencing someone else for the park to decide it’s worth it to cut this sort of activity off from now on.

    And like I said when I started this rant, I mean no offense, but maybe if you read this and it rubbed you the wrong way then maybe this is talking about you (indirectly because I probably don’t know you)…maybe you are taking some liberties you shouldn’t, and maybe you should reflect on your own practice.

        1. It is crazy because when I was chatting with Thomas and having a coffee from the booth beside theirs, I saw this person ( I cannot Croc shame them) and it was like WOW…I need that. So I have different pins on my Crocs as a memory of Xenia and the booths I went to and Pork Chop sandwiches and Coors Light. So I say GO to a Hamfest and make your own Croc Giblets.

          I do not have to say how I got a Heil in there besides the purple color


  15. This reminds me of why so many locations are now closed to overnight RV parking for similar reasons. For whatever reasons, so many don’t ask permission, drop trash, take up excess space, or do behaviors unbecoming of the activity intended. Courtesy, low profile, friendly, & well manor of behavior with an open mind to suggestions from the park managers are a given. Maybe there needs to be an administered test similar to the General ticket class of license in order to be a representative of the POTA group as an activator?

  16. I don’t do XOTA, but have operated outdoors for years. The bit about making your presence known to officials while being a scrupulously good example is on-point. You have to remember that they often don’t see the good hams at all; we can set up, operate, take-down, and go home and they never realise exactly who or what we are, because we’re not a problem. Meanwhile, disruptive or confrontational hams they clearly notice. The nature of working with the public means that a dozen cooperative hams and one jerk can set up in a public space, and staff may get the impression that all hams are jerks.

    The bit about “yelling at your radio” is very key. A major reason that I seldom encounter resistance in the field is because I’m a brasspounder; I make zero noise. I’ve heard civilians complain about a ham setting up in an adjacent campground site and spoiling their vacation. When I ask how, they talk about endless “CQ, CQ, how you doing, Fred, my QTH is…” and squawking receivers. I’d hate that, too.

    A pair of headphones and a code key solve that problem. I’ve operated into the night from a room next door to multiple sleeping neighbours. When I asked next morning if I’d bothered anybody, nobody’d even known I was awake.

    Finally, in terms of public relations, if interested passersby approach while I’m CQing, I just stop operating and field their questions. I’ve had set-ups where I almost didn’t key down at all; spent all that time talking to fellow park users, inviting their kids to take a seat at my key, what have you. With any good luck, some of those people have since become hams – brasspounders, even. One thing is sure: I came home happy after a nice day in the sun, talking to people and playing with my radio. Which is what I went out for in the first place.

    Thanks for the good article, Thomas. I learned some important stuff. (Didn’t even know some parks ban tree wires. Goes to show how low-key my operation is. Plus I don’t operate from wildlife areas or high-traffic parks.)

  17. Thomas:

    I’ve been toying with adding a vertical (other than the AX1) to my POTA kit and this article convinced me to finally take that step. So I’ve ordered the Chelegance MC-750. That will guarantee a smaller footprint if the situation calls for that. It is good to be reminded we are the ambassadors for our hobby. Thank you for this thought-provoking post.

    Teri KO4WFP

    1. Teri,

      You’re going to love the antenna, but make sure to pick up the tripod as well. My go-to park has become hard-core in enforcing the “no ground penetration “ rule. They used to say “not here, please, but over in that area is fine.” They love my tripod, and I make sure to point it out to any Ranger whom I’ve not met before.

    2. You won’t have buyer’s remorse, Teri. That vertical will help you get on and off of the air quickly (maximizing your on-the-air time) as you rove your way to 60 parks this year.

      I think it’s important to have at least one multi-band vertical in your POTA field kit for those low-impact, low-profile activations!


  18. Teri

    I have made over 1000 POTA contacts with the MC-750 antenna. It is my go-to for a small footprint deployment on 20m and up
    It is also my no tuner deployment antenna
    I wipe it down if there is any moisture after every deployment
    I made a couple of adapters from the metric thread to US threads to use with my clamps and tripods

    I have some videos up on my blog and a review in QST is scheduled to print

    I can deploy the antenna in a few minutes and it’s low angle of radiation helps me work EU stations from the park

    It comes in a nice travel case as a bonus

    John ve3ips

  19. Thanks Thomas. I would like your opinion on something. Which makes for a better ambassador experience, CW or SSB?

    CW has the mystique of communicating with dits and dahs. But almost no one can understand or listen in on the conversation. SSB can be listened in on and understood by almost everyone . SSB also has that familiarity of a conversation going for it.

    I’m just curious as to your (and other’s ) experience.


    1. That’s an interesting question! I guess I feel that CW makes the whole thing a bit more “mysterious” and perhaps attracts people’s attention better. “Everybody” has the experience of talking into some kind of electronic device (‘phone, walkie-talkie, CB radio, etc.), but if you’re sitting there just “wiggling your fingers” people are likely to be curious as to what you are doing!

      I can think of three instances when someone stopped and expressed curiosity about what I was doing. I happened to be using CW in each case. In one instance I was sitting next to a trail with my “random” wire up in a tree and some hikers asked what I was listening to. I unplugged my earbuds so they could hear and told them that I was communicating with people all around the country.
      In another I had my 40 foot mast on the back of my truck and I was using a wire sloper coming down to where I was sitting off to the side of the parking lot out of the way and again using earbuds. A passer-by asked if I was doing something related to wildlife tracking. When I told him I was a ham he said oh, yes, he had a friend who was a ham.
      In the third case I was at a wildlife management area with my 20 foot mast on my truck and I was sitting on the tailgate operating. No one was around so I was using the KX2’s speaker. A couple of guys drove by and stopped to see what I was doing and as soon as they saw, they said, oh, one of those ham radio guys and we talked a bit.
      I can think of a few other occasions when I was operating from a picnic table or bench wearing earbuds and working CW and people walked by without any interaction. Especially with the KX2 and AX1 most people probably recognize that it might be some kind of radio, and being at a government managed site they probably assume I’m doing something in some official capacity.

      I’m always happy to have some stop to talk and to answer their questions, although if their reaction is — OK, here’s a guy sitting quietly at table, not bothering anyone or taking up much space, just fiddling with some piece of equipment and writing occasional notes on a piece of paper, he’s obviously no threat — that’s OK with me too!

  20. When we get to Colorado for the summer I am sure to purchase a State Parks & Recreation Family pass which also covers special districts like the Upper Arkansas River District, plus I buy an annual access pass for the SWA’s which includes a trout stamp. Even though I do not possess a fishing license, I make sure I carry my Amateur Radio license with me. I visited the State Rangers office to buy these passes & got a list of dates I won’t be operating due to specific hunting activities that are only fair to gun hunters who wait all year for this period. When I brought the POTA brochure with me They were instrumental is showing me a map of the day use areas. The Federal properties then have a whole different set of rules, some can only be visited on certain periods when the visitor centers are open to the public and no access to the property is possible any other times. I don’t just get one employees answer either, I crosscheck what they say against other similar properties to make sure I have the full picture. I don’t just talk radio either, I take full interest in what the property is all about. One days I was struggling to deploy an antenna on the magnetic mount to my truck and realizing I forgot my SO-238 to BNC adapters, I looked up to see an Amish buggy parked with the occupants wondering what I was up to. That day we went for ice cream I stead of activating, getting mad at the missing connector wasn’t going to help.

  21. It makes me SO happy to see this post from you! Despite the trend, I will always seek to foster a positive relationship with park staff my communicating my intent. It has, on more than one occasion, led to insight that I may not have gleaned without interacting with park staff.

  22. Living in South Carolina and now retired, my hobbies have allowed me visit many parks. So I purchased a SC State Park Permit that allows entrance into all state parks at a reduced price because of my age. Additionally, I purchased the state Lifetime Hunting and Fishing License for $9.00. Fees on this last purchase go towards the benefit of non-game species as well as game species. Taxes from Hunters, Fisherpersons, and Archery sales fund conservation efforts under the Robertson Pittman Act of 1937 which allocates funds back to states for their efforts. Just my way of giving back. Maybe Amateur Radio Clubs can unite to clean up the parks one or two days a year. every effort helps.

  23. I thorougt of your post today while activating K-0864 Steamtown National Historic Site today. My son and I both purchased a couple of park post cards to send instead of QSL cards. I won’t send them to all 30+ QSOs but a couple of DX stations will receive a park post card. Central Argentina on 5W of 10M CW from an 818. Sweeet!

    73 Shawn WS0SWV

  24. Thomas,

    This post should be included in the POTA activator guidelines.

    Like many others have stated, I try to be as stealth as possible and not draw attention. As I’ve gotten more experienced at activating, my kit has gotten smaller and more compact (using many ideas I’ve learned about right here on leading to a less noticeable setup and not requiring any trees or ground penetrations. I don’t take up any more than one parking space or a regular size picnic table.

    Thank you for being a good POTA ambassador and setting the best example for everyone to follow.

  25. Tom: I have to push back on your suggestion to ask permission. This is a bad ideas because it suggests to rangers and others that you may be doing something outside of the park rules.
    If you find a quiet spot, away from others, and set up your gear then you are no different than any other parkgoer having a picnic or othewise using the park as it was intended.
    I also take issue with your use of wires in trees. Although some parks allow it, most do not, especially national parks in my area (DC). Although some POTAs have never had an issue, it may be because the staff has never noticed it.

    1. Hi, Larry,

      I hear you. All of these things vary greatly by state/province and region.

      Here in North Carolina, the only parks I’ve encountered that will not allow antennas in trees are those on archaeological or historic sites. In fact, only one of those that I’ve activated has actually told me they don’t want antennas in trees.

      It is true that by asking permission at a park, you are opening yourself up to a denial. That said, I have only once been denied an activation in any of the 100+ States or provinces where I’ve activated. One time, an employee at a SEPAQ park in Québec asked me not to activate, but that was mainly because she was new to her job and there was no other staff to ask that day. She asked me to come back the following day (and I was granted permission).

      I agree that if your radio kit is being set up in a picnic/parking area, isn’t disturbing the environment, isn’t in a view shed, and you’re following park rules–especially at a popular POTA site–there’s not real need to seek permission. I would, however, ask permission if setting up in a special spot or to set up a larger antenna.

      I’ve never activated a DC area park. I imagine they could be more suspicious. Going low-impact and low-profile, as you suggest, would be key. I’d just use a tabletop antenna if in doubt. 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

      1. It seems the WMA type properties are some of the most important to ask for permission. One in Colorado is a huge WMA next to a National Park & Preserve. The visitor center is open only two days per month, else to even be in the rest of the property requires a valid Moose hunting permit, be in season, etc. Anyone caught on the 250,000 ace hunting area without the proper licenses, stamps, etc. will be in great trouble. The visitor center has limited parking, but POTA can be down, but don’t park at the HWY gate blocking it & hike in the 2 miles to the visitor center on the 28 days they are closed. When you get to the visitor center, the trees there are almost the only trees on the whole property in total, but they will dictate who can throw a wire into those old cottonwoods & willows. For me it would be a Hamsticks or an AX1 ant, etc

        Another WMA property 30 minutes south is several hundred thousand acres of desert wetlands, a weird mixture of fish & waterfowl in abundance also at about 7,000 ft ASL, any trees were thorny little those with billions of cattails with sage & rabbit brush in between natural wetland ponds. I tried to activate at a picnic table there but I more or less had ten feet flies on me at once, inside the truck there was a dozen on the windows trying to get in. I was at a Trailside picnic table next to a walking loop. I forgot my SO-239 to BNC male adapter & had to scrub my mission. The string of Amish buggies driving through the 2 mile loop was incredible that Sunday. I visited the property six times on various days of the week & never found a Ranger in charge of the property. Again, antennas here are best self contained & although it was a federal property, there are many similar that are state properties. The lady Ranger that sold me the State Park, SWA w/Trout Stamp indicated I should get a non-resident fishing license because deploying a 27′ Chinese carbon fiber mast pole might not be the best time to tell the Ranger you never use it for fishing, only to catch DX, lol.


        Davey –KU9L

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