On Thursday, February 1, 2024, I managed my first POTA activation in weeks.
As I mentioned here on QRPer, January was a crazy month. Not only did I lack the time to activate parks, but I also wasn’t in the right frame of mind to make activation videos.
However, on February 1, things were looking up, and a nice little POTA activation was just what the doctor ordered!
I grabbed my KX2/AX1 pack as I headed out the door.
On the way into Asheville, I stopped by the Folk Art Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378)–my go-to site for convenient activations. I had a one-hour window of time to fit in an activation.
BRP & MST Two-Fer
You might recall that in my last field report (from January 5, 2024), Hazel and I hiked the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (K-8313) and found a trailside spot that was also within the Blue Ridge Parkway (K-3378) property boundary. The activation counted as a two-fer!
You don’t have to hike the Mountains-to-Sea Trail (MST), however, in order to activate it and the parkway at the same time.
In the activation video, below, I show where one of the picnic tables at the Folk Art Center is close enough to where the MST passes that it counts. Makes for an easy drive-up, two-fer activation.
New Tufteln Cover!
A few weeks ago, my friend Joshua (N5FY) sent me a new protective cover for my Elecraft KX2. He’s now made these covers a part of his product line at Tufteln.com.
Like my Tufteln KX1 cover, the KX2 cover locks onto the front of the radio with rare earth magnets. It only requires that you replace the stock screws around the KX2 display with the ones Joshua provides. His replacement screws have a slightly higher profile, which allows the cover to attach magnetically.
What I love about Joshua’s covers is that they do a brilliant job of protecting all of the controls of the KX2 without taking up as much space as, say, the stock clear cover that came with my side panels.
Also, it fits the KX2 perfectly whether you have side panels or not!
Of course, the glory of the KX2/AX1 combo is that it takes almost no time to set up in the field.
Within a minute or two, my gear was deployed, and I was on the air seeking a clear frequency.
I opted to use my Begali Traveler (over my KXPD2) key since it was also packed in my GoRuck GR1.
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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.
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
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
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.
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
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!
This is my new field kit for my IC-705. The 705 is my favorite radio in my collection and I prefer to use it for any casual field work where size and weight isn’t a concern. (When I am concerned about size and weight I typically take my KX2.)
It consists of a protected IC-705 and a camera lens case. I cannot take credit for this idea since I copied it from Aaron Bowman, W4ARB. (see his video here)
The kit consists of the following:
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On Friday, January 5, 2024, I looked at Hazel and could tell that, despite the chilly temps, she wanted to go on a late afternoon hike. I did, too, for that matter and why not combine the hike with a POTA activation?
In addition, we were expecting a winter storm to move in that night, so hitting the trail in advance of the snow and ice seemed to make sense.
Before I could get my boots on, Hazel was waiting by the car door to jump in.
At 1175 miles long, the MST stretches from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to the Great Smoky Mountains (see map above).
I can actually hike to the MST from my QTH, but it takes a good hour and half to do so. It’s much easier to drive to one of the numerous nearby trailheads, and that’s exactly what Hazel and I did. I drove to one of my favorite Blue Ridge Parkway POTA spots where a short manway connects to the MST.
Hazel was so excited to hit the trail. (I was, too.)
At the end of the day (because, it was nearing the end of the day) we couldn’t hike for long if I planned to also complete a POTA activation. Sunset was at 5:29 PM local and I didn’t want to pack up and hike back in the dark.
I started my action camera and captured the last bit of hike before Hazel and I found a great spot to set up. There were enough trees around to deploy a 40 meter EFHW and a relatively flat spot to set up my Helinox chair and KX1 station.
Since much of this section of the MST is on the Blue Ridge Parkway grounds, I checked quickly to make sure my operating site would qualify as a two-fer with K-3378.
I opened the Parceled App on my iPhone to confirm that my site was indeed on Blue Ridge Parkway property..
It’s been a stormy past several days here in Northern California, but if anything, the weather only amplifies my motivation to go outside and get on the air.
Rather than do a separate writeup for each, this post is a roundup of my last four POTA activations, from Friday, February 2nd through Sunday, the 4th.
Thursday and Friday had been wet, with one storm in a series moving across the Bay Area. However, by Friday evening the cold front had passed and there was a break in the rain. This was a perfect opportunity to try an after work activation at the Presidio of SF (K-7889).
I hadn’t used the QCX-Mini in a while, and this activation reminded me why. I believe what is happening is that being so close to the antenna, RF interference causes clicking while keying, nearly to the point of distraction. I need to experiment with RF chokes on the key and audio lines to see if that improves the situation.
Fed up with the RFI on the QCX-Mini, I switched over to the MTR-4B which doesn’t seem to suffer the same issue. I wrapped up the activation after netting 21 QSOs in the cold west wind.
The next bout of rain wasn’t due to arrive until later Saturday afternoon. This was a change in the forecast that subsequently altered my plan to stay in Saturday soldering on my QMX Hi-Bander project.
Initially I went to Fort Point (K-0819) in the hopes of changing it up from my usual activation park but there were just too many people there. So seeking relief from crowds, I crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and went up on the slopes of Mt. Tamalpais.
I parked at Trojan Point at an elevation of approximately 1800 feet. See this post for more views from this location. The temperature was in the mid-40s, which is cold for us coastal Californians. Besides, the winds were picking up ahead of the next storm so I operated from the comfort of my vehicle using the Gabil 7350T base loaded vertical antenna on 15m and 20m.
This activation used the FT-818 and yielded 23 contacts, including JH1MXV from northwest of Tokyo, Japan coming in fairly strong on 21 MHz.
Driving back to San Francisco takes me right through the Presidio of SF (K-7889) and noticing that it was after 00:00 UTC, I made the last second decision to divert to East Beach to see if I could work in another activation before the anticipated rain.
At my usual spot for activating this park, it took only moments to raise the MFJ-1979 20m quarter wave and do a quick deployment of the MTR-4B on the trunk of the car. The wind was picking up, but not nearly as strong as it was up on the mountain.
After seven QSOs, the skies began spitting raindrops, this was going to be close! I closed the cover of the Maxpedition pouch to protect the radio and battery while the Bencher paddles could tolerate a little bit of moisture.
Periodically, I travel to Washington, DC for my job. On my latest trip, I carved out some time to activate some parks. The hotel I was staying at is just a few minutes away from the National Mall, which provides many activation options on the POTA website. After scoping it out on Google Earth and researching trails using the National Parks mobile app and web sites, I settled on the Jefferson Memorial, K-0792 as my first stop which is a two-fer with the National Mall, K-0655.
Just steps away is the George Mason Memorial where the Potomac Heritage Trail National Scenic Trail, K-4564 passes right through and is located along the East bank of the Lower Potomac River. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, K-4567 runs by as well. The bench I found on the shore of the river met the minimum 100’ rule for both trails and was also located in the National Mall park, so this location was a three-fer.
I tried to travel as light as possible this trip. The gear I chose to bring was the Elecraft KX2 along with the AX1 antenna and my laptop with the USB sound card and CIV cable.
The January winter weather was mild, in the low 40’s F so setting up and activating outside wasn’t a problem. With it being off season for tourists, I had the park almost all to myself. There were signs posted at the memorial asking visitors to be quiet and respectful, so the last thing I wanted to do was set up on the steps and draw attention to myself. I found a wall near the Tidal Basin’s water’s edge and was able to set up out of the way of anyone wanting to photograph the memorial, but still be on the property. Continue reading For Conrad, DC Travel = DC POTA!→
I normally don’t announce activations on QRPer, but tonight I plan to activate a two-fer of Pisgah National Forest (K-4510) and Pisgah Game Land (K-6937) starting roughly around the turn of the UTC day (19:00 EST tonight, or 00:00 UTC on Februay 7, 2024).
I’ll be testing an 80 meter coil for the Chelegance MC-750 vertical.
I’m announcing this POTA activation becase a number of you who live way too close for a 40 meter and up contact have asked me to post if I plan a late night activation on 80 meters.
As many of you know, my personal life has been tumultuous these past five months. I thought maybe it would settle down after the first of this year but no such luck. My son and I moved into a townhouse the third week of January. While I appreciate my parents upending their lives to accommodate the two of us during my divorce, there were too many people in too small of a house with too much stuff. Also, my son needed a room of his own which he didn’t have at their place.
Moves are never convenient and this one was no exception. I needed to be packing the Sunday prior to my early Monday morning move. However, I had already committed to and scheduled an activation at Oliver Bridge Wildlife Management Area (K-3764). The weekend of January 20th and 21st was the winter Support Your Parks weekend and, as a POTA Babe, there was no way I would miss the event!
Thankfully, Oliver Bridge Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is only 40 minutes from my parents’ home. That meant another pleasant drive in rural Georgia on GA Route 17 through the communities of Guyton, Egypt, and Oliver.
This WMA consists of 1,560 acres and offers hunting for deer, small game, and turkey. Checking the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Hunting Regulations guide, the only item in season this particular weekend was small game. I would make sure to take the blaze orange vests for both Daisy and me again.
The WMA is bounded on one side by the Ogeechee River, one of the few free-flowing streams in Georgia. This blackwater river runs southeast 294 miles to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at Ossabaw Sound near Savannah. It played an important part for trade and commerce as well as was a source of freshwater and food for communities along its banks. In present day, kayaking and canoeing are popular pastimes on the river as well as fishing.
Daisy and I arrived at the WMA a little before 11 AM. We took River Road in the park to find a place for the activation. The road was in rough condition in some spots and was another one I’d not want to drive immediately after a heavy rain. I was thankful, once again, for my four-wheel drive Subaru Crosstrek nicknamed Kai. (My family has a funny habit of naming all our cars.)
On the map, there appeared to be a clearing about two-thirds of the way down the road. Tall, skinny pine trees lined either side of the road, not great for getting an arborist line into them. Thankfully, the canopy opened up for a small clearing as I surmised from the map and it was here I decided to set up.
Because of the opening, the pine trees near the side of the road had some lower, reachable branches on them. After a few tries, I snagged the branch I wanted and began hoisting the Tufteln EFRW antenna with the arborist line.
In past activations, I would usually get the antenna up however I could. But, at this point in my POTA journey, I am beginning to think how I want the antenna oriented with propagation in mind. I wanted it to run at a diagonal – northwest to southeast. To do that, I’d have to get it across a wide ditch that was partially frozen due to the cold temps. However, if I just tossed the line across, it was light enough it would likely end up in the ditch where I couldn’t easily retrieve it. Continue reading A Hasty Activation in Georgia→
If 2014 Thomas looked at 2024 Thomas’ QRP radio inventory, he wouldn’t believe the number of radios he’d accumulated in a mere decade.
It’s a little insane, really.
The thing is, over the years, I’ve picked up some great QRP bargains at local hamfests and via various online classifieds. While it’s not exactly “chump change,” you can often find good used QRP radios for less than $300.
Sometimes it’s hard (for me) to pass up those deals.
One such deal was a local fellow who wanted to sell his Ten-Tec R4020 a few years ago. He listed it for $125, and there weren’t any takers for a few days. (Keep in mind, this was a wee bit before our current CW Renaissance.)
I contacted him and snapped it up. I thought the R4020 might be a fun little two-band radio for POTA and SOTA adventures.
I was right!
The R4020 is an incredibly fun radio to use in the field.
The audio is superb. It has a low noise floor, great sensitivity, and a well chosen filter width. What the R4020 lacks in features, it makes up for with audio fidelity, in my opinion.
I look forward to each and every activation with this QRP wonder.
Speaking of which…
Tuttle Educational State Forest (K-4861)
On Wednesday, January 3, 2024, I made some time in the afternoon to stop at Tuttle Educational State Forest.
I believe I was on the way back to the QTH that afternoon after an overnight with my folks in Hickory, NC.
I love Tuttle, but it had been a while since I completed an activation here. In the activation video (below) I said it had been a couple of months, but later I checked and realized it had been four months! Wow! Hard for me to believe it had been that long!
That day, the park was void of visitors. I was the only person in the parking lot. No surprise here: kids were just heading back to school after a long Christmas break, so there were no field trips on site.
Since there was no competition in the picnic area, I decided to grab a site I might not have actually used before in previous Tuttle activations. I’m evidently working on my WATPT (Worked All Tuttle Picnic Tables) award!
First, a quick inventory…
Before heading to Hickory the previous day, I grabbed the little Blue Ridge Outdoors pouch that held my R4020 and much of the supplies I’d need to get on the air.
I knew, though, that this wasn’t a fully self-contained field kit. Not yet, at least. I hoped that between my main radio gear pack and what I had in the car, I could piece together an entire station.
In my activation video, I speak to the mental checklist I use to make sure I have all of the necessary components to complete my field kit. I did this on site as I set up (typically, this is done prior to leaving the QTH).
Fortunately, I had everything I needed, including an external speaker.
Side note: Some of you might notice the (disproportionately) large Bioenno battery I used during this activation. Yes, it’s crazy overkill for this wee QRP radio. I’d normally use a 3Ah battery, but frankly, I need to exercise my 15Ah battery from time-to-time, too! It gets the least amount of field time because I normally save it for my QRO radios that I use so little in the field.
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Many thanks to Rand (W7UDT) who shares the following guest post:
Velcro, ergo; ergonomics…
by Rand (W7UDT)
Velcro is amazing. It’s so handy. There are so many uses, and creative solutions it provides us. It’ll stick this to that, and that to this. As field operators, it should be part of our kits.
Below are some examples of how I’ve used Velcro.
Question: How do you keep a Android tablet, a 3aH 12v DC pack, a QRP Labs QDX LoBander, all its cords & patches, plus an EmTech ZM2 tuner all nice and tidy? Velcro!
Here’s the old QDX kit…
Here’s the new (velcro’d) QDX kit, complete with EmTech ZM2 tuner, neatly attached on the back of the Tablet, with the QDX and DC Pack. It all fits in a zippered pouch, along with the EFλ/2 antenna, perfect for the QDX.
The new QDX kit even sits at a nice viewing angle, with all of the cords hidden from view. Ergo, ergonomics.
Question: Where & how do you safely place your transceiver on a rugged SOTA/POTA activation, so it won’t get damaged?
How? Velcro! What makes more sense? A precarious rock, or the Molle patch on your pack?
This is my QCX Mini ~ Forty, Velcro’d with two horizontally applied 1” strips, with short cords channeled between them. It secures the perfectly mated 3aH 12v TalentCell battery, to which I applied another velcro strip to hold fast the Palm Pico paddle. Also note the ‘D-shaped’ earpiece/speaker, on the BNC jack. It’s hung and velcro’d just above the paddle.
Since this photo, I’ve added three 2×4” (cut to fit) patches to the front, back and bottom of the QCX Mini & TalentCell, which neatly bundles this little QRP contraption and transforms it into a QRP wonder! Now it all fits in my hand, or attaches firmly to my pack. Dit dit dit daw! Velcro!
A view from Zion NP, in the backcountry… late last Spring. Where my little transceiver tried to commit suicide.
Just sayin’… Velcro may be just the answer you’re looking for.