Tuesday last week (December 8, 2020), I was still on a much-needed weeklong vacation near Charleston, South Carolina with my family. We had the day wide-open to enjoy the outdoors and my wife suggested we find a nice park where I could play radio and we could enjoy a picnic.
I looked on the POTA map and chose the Bonneau Ferry Wildlife Management Area (K-3888) primarily because I thought it would be fun to spend some time near a lake.
The drive there was over an hour from where we were staying on John’s Island, but well worth it!
Turns out, it was pretty chilly and windy that day due to a front that had moved through the area during the night. After exploring the area a bit, my wife and daughters decided to enjoy their picnic in the car while I did the activation!
On the air
The spot we found near one of the lakes was ideal for a POTA activation. Although there were numerous large trees that were perfect for wire antennas, I deployed my CHA Emcomm Lite vertical knowing it would also perform well (and it did!)
Because the CHA MPAS Lite is so easy to deploy, I was on the air in a matter of minutes. I decided to stake it in the ground next to the water about 50 feet from my operating position under a tree. You can see it in the photo above (it’s rather stealthy!).
I’m not at all bothered by cold weather, but it was windy enough that my hands did get cold.
I started calling CQ around 17:55 UTC and by 18:34 I had logged a total of 21 stations on both 40 and 30 meters.
POTA hunters will often thank me for activating a park. I always tell them “it’s my pleasure.” Because it is! Just check out the view from my shack!
This is why I love POTA and SOTA so much. I’m a firm believer that radios and their operators are meant to be outdoors!
When I operate outdoors, I tune out everything else in the world and just enjoy the radio time and the outdoors. It’s bliss.
I kept my total time on site less than one hour so my family and I could continue exploring the area and even get a long walk on the beach before sunset.
Here’s a map of the stations I worked with 5-10 watts. Since I discovered this park had never been activated in CW, I made it a CW-only activation:
If you find yourself in the Charleston, SC area, I highly recommend a trip to Bonneau Ferry WMA for some Parks On The Air fun!
I’m currently taking a little vacation time with the family on the coast of South Carolina and Saturday, December 5, 2020, we decided to explore a nearby park and activate it. I happened upon the ACE Basin Project on the POTA website and thought it sounded intriguing. Our plan was to go to the park, perform a quick activation, perhaps hike a bit, then go to the coast for a beach walk.
I’ve been to wildlife management areas and game lands that have been very basic perhaps only featuring a parking area and a trail or two– which is fine, frankly.
But sometimes you happen upon gems like the Ernest F. Hollings ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge that are so much more!
The visitor’s center and the main gates to the house were closed, but the grounds were still open to the public. We parked in the area just outside the main gates.
Since I had no idea what to expect on site, I grabbed my Red Oxx Micro Manager field kit that had the Elecraft KX2 and AX1 antenna packed inside.
On this vacation, space in the family car was extremely limited, so I only packed the AX1 and the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antennas to pair with the KX2. I left the CHA MPAS Lite vertical in the car assuming I might actually perform the activation back at the parking area once we walked around the main house.
The KX2/AX1 travel kit is incredibly portable and lightweight. That’s the whole kit in the bag in the photo above.
On the air
Turns out, we pretty much had the entire campus to ourselves that day and, as a bonus, there was even an excellent picnic area where I could easily set up the KX2 and AX1 antenna.
I hopped on the air around noon and started calling CQ. I had no internet access on site, but could tell the Reverse Beacon Network and POTA spots page had auto-spotted me because I worked about three stations on CW within the first few minutes.
I started on 40 meters CW, but quickly moved over to phone before converting the AX1 antenna for 20 and 17 meters.
A friend spotted me on the POTA site and I worked a couple more stations on SSB.
After only 15 or 20 minutes on the air, my wife suggested we stay put for a couple of hours. We were all loving the gorgeous weather, wildlife, and beautiful scenery by the pond. She asked our daughters to hike back to the car and grab our picnic lunch. I decided to accompany them and grab the CHA MPAS Lite vertical knowing it would be a much more effective antenna for a longer activation.
The hike was about 30 minutes round-trip (that’s a long plantation driveway!).
After I got back to the site, I installed the MPAS Lite which took all of four minutes. A friend, once again, spotted me on the POTA network and I started calling CQ on 20 meters phone.
I quickly worked stations from Texas, Missouri, Indiana, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Ontario.
I wanted to hop back to CW mode though, because I discovered K-0520 (this park) had never been activated in CW before and wanted to give CW hunters a chance to put it in the logs.
I worked stations across the US on 20 meters CW from Tennessee to Kansas, from Arizona, to Alaska, and from Iowa to Ontario. Major fun!
I also decided to head further up the band and work AD1C in Colorado on 15 meters (there were no takers on 12 and 10 meters, but I tried–!).
I started around 17:00 UTC and wrapped things up around 19:15 UTC with 34 logged. That may seem like a low QSO count for over two hours, but a good 45-50 minutes of that time I was off air while hiking back to the car and grabbing the MPAS Lite, setting it up, and enjoying a quick picnic with the family.
All in all it was a very memorable day at the ACE Basic WMA. If you’re ever in the low country of South Carolina, I highly recommend a visit. It’s a stunning site with lots of flora, fauna, hikes, and, of course, a great spot for a little field radio fun!
Note: If I worked you during this activation, it may not show up on the POTA website until I’m home from vacation and can create an ADIF file to submit the logs!
On Tuesday (Nov 17, 2020), I decided to activate South Mountains State Park (K-2753) for the Parks On The Air (POTA) program. As with my activation at Lake James the day before, it was impromptu. Basically, the weather was beautiful, so I couldn’t resist.
In fact, the weather was so nice, on my way to South Mountains I passed by Bakers Mountain County Park and hiked their full trail including the summit. While on that hike, I ran into Kenneth (W4KAC) who had just activated Bakers Mountain for Summits On The Air (SOTA). This was a bit of serendipity because I, too, plan to activate Baker’s Mountain for SOTA and Kenneth provided some great details for finding the summit (which is not actually on the park grounds). It was great running into a fellow QRPer and talking shop, too! I hope to meet Kenneth again in the field.
I arrived at South Mountains State Park mid-afternoon and set up near one of their large covered picnic shelters.
Although I’ve activated South Mountains State Game Land numerous times in the past, I’ve never activated the actual park. The last time I popped by the park, there was already another ham there in the middle of an activation, so I moved to the adjoining game land that day.
South Mountains State Park is a very popular park–indeed, it’s currently the second most activated park in North Carolina. Although I didn’t realize it at the time because I had no internet access, there was actually another operator somewhere at the park on the air at the same time I was.
Once again, I set up the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite vertical antenna for this quick activation.
Besides being such a quick and easy antenna to deploy, I love how stealthy it is, essentially disappearing against a background of trees.
As you might imagine, activating a park while someone else is also activating it is not ideal. At the time, I couldn’t figure out why contacts were coming in so slowly, but no doubt many hunters probably thought they’d already worked me because they worked the other activator.
In the end, though, my biggest problem at South Mountains was the fact my battery died in the Elecraft T1 ATU after finding a match on the 20 meter band. A 9 volt battery should last months in the T1, but the battery I put in it several weeks ago had already been used in another device for a few months. I had meant to replace it with a fresh cell. I actually packed a new 9V battery in my main radio pack, but I didn’t have it with me on this trip because both South Mountains and Lake James were unplanned activations.
I spent a good half an hour on the 20 and 30 meter bands where I had a decent match, but only logged three or four hunters. Conditions were not ideal on the higher bands.
I really needed to move down to the 40 meter band knowing it would be more productive, but I had no way to find a match for the IC-705. (Lesson learned: I’ll never again leave home without my Emtech ZM-2 as a backup!).
Fortunately, I remembered I had the Elecraft KX1 field kit. The KX1 now permanently lives in my car so I know I always have a complete radio kit for impromptu field activations.
The KX1 has a built in ATU, but it’s not as robust and versatile as the T1 or the internal ATUs in the KX2 or KX3.
I tried loading 40 meters and got a 2.5:1 match. I’m sure the KX1 would have plugged along, but I don’t like pushing much over 2:1 when I don’t have to.
After tinkering with the CHA MPAS Lite counterpoise for ten minutes, I finally found a length that, if half suspended, allowed the KX1’s internal tuner to achieve a 1.9:1 match. Good enough!
I started calling CQ on 40 meters and within a few minutes, I logged a total of 12 contacts.
The KX1 saved my bacon that Tuesday!
All in all, I really enjoyed the time at South Mountains State Park. It was beautiful weather and I had an idea spot to set up and operate. I’ll certainly come back here in the future.
I’ve also decided that I’m going to start packing a resonant antenna option in the car with my KX1 field kit. It’s only this year that I started using multi-band and random wire antennas that require an ATU; they are mighty convenient indeed, but it’s always nice to have a resonant option on hand as well.
It was blustery and cold Monday morning due to a front that moved through during the night, so it was no surprise that the picnic area was completely void of (sane) people.
I found a picnic table on the bank that was relatively sheltered from some of the stronger gusts moving across the river. It was still quite windy, though, so I propped the MPAS Lite field pack on the table to provide a bit of a wind break for my log book.
Setup was quick. I don’t think I needed more than 4-5 minutes to have the CHA MPAS Lite deployed. This is one of the advantages of field portable verticals. The disadvantage? Verticals aren’t the most effective antennas in this part of North Carolina where ground conductivity is so poor. Still…I knew I could at least grab my ten needed contacts to have a valid POTA activation.
On the air
I won’t lie: it was slow-going.
For one thing, it was 11:00 local on a Monday morning–not exactly a prime time for a park activation.
I first tried making some SSB contacts on 40 meters and spotted myself on the POTA network. I managed to log 5 hunters in 30 minutes. With patience and time, no doubt, I could log ten SSB contacts, but I didn’t have time to wait, so I moved over to CW.
Oddly, the higher HF bands were in better shape than 40 meters that morning. One of my first contacts was NL7V in Alaska on 20 meters. A most impressive contact with 10 watts into a vertical.
I was on the air a full hour and did manage to log a total of 10 contacts. I’m certain if I would have deployed a wire antenna I would have had even better luck. Indeed, had I thought about it in advance, I could have actually deployed the MPAS Lite as a random wire antenna. (Doh!) That’s one of the great things about this antenna system is that it can be configured so many different ways. Next time…
Still…I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Lake James State Park. I’ll make this detour again in the near future.
The Icom IC-705 continues to prove its worth as a superb little POTA transceiver!
Yesterday, I *finally* activated two parks that have been on my list for most of the year: Elk Knob State Game Land (K-6903) and Elk Knob State Park (K-2728).
The game land had never been activated which I found quite puzzling since it seemed to be accessible based on my maps and was only 1.5 miles from (actually adjoining!) a state park which has been activated a number times.
Turns out, there’s a good reason it hadn’t been activated.
Elk Knob State Game Land (K-6903)
Upon entering the game land parcel, you’re greeted by the sign above which states that while the game land is a public resource, it is private land and the owner only allows hunting and trapping on it. First time I’ve ever encountered this.
This meant that I really couldn’t cross the barb wire fence that lined the one lane dirt road to activate the park in the woods (which I would have preferred).
Fortunately, I found one pull-off in the middle of the game land road. It was just wide enough to fit my car so that others on the road could pass me without a problem. It was rather tight, though.
Since I didn’t want to use a tree on the game land to support my antenna, I employed the Chameleon CHA MPAS Lite 17′ vertical.
I pushed the MPAS Lite spike into the ditch of the road and ran the counterpoise along the ditch as well. All was within the road right-of-way, yet within the game land so I felt it a proper compromise respecting the land owner’s wishes while still being able to activate the park.
For this activation, I chose the Elecraft KX2 since I had such a limited space in the back of my car to both operate the transceiver and log.
The great thing about the KX2 is it’s such a complete & compact package: it’s a transceiver, with an internal battery pack (that allows 10 watts of power), a built-in ATU, and attachable paddles. Everything easily fits on my clip board which then functions as an operating table.
I started calling CQ POTA and was quickly spotted to the POTA spots page via the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN).
I very quickly logged a number of stations in CW, but did eventually reach one road block when one of the contact posts in my KXPD paddles loosened. I’ve had this happen before. Thankfully, I keep precision screwdrivers in my EDC bag, so could make the fix. Unfortunately, it took me off the air for a good 5-10 minutes and I lost my pile-up.
I eventually changed modes and called CQ a few times on 40 meters phone.
In the end, I only logged 13 contacts. Certainly the smallest number I’ve ever had at an ATNO (All Time New One). I felt I had to cut it short, though, as cars/trucks had to slow down to pass me. Twice I was asked if I needed any help (assuming my car had broken down).
I was very grateful to have the CHA MPAS Lite antenna in my arsenal, though. I have few other antenna options that would have worked so effectively in such a tight space.
The MPAS Lite is also incredibly stealthy. I’m not sure many passersby even noticed it.
On to the next park!
Elk Knob State Park (K-2728)
Where Elk Knob Game Land was an incredibly challenging site, adjoining Elk Knob State Park was the complete opposite. A POTA activator’s dream site.
This was my first visit to Elk Knob State Park and I was most impressed. Not only is the park gorgeous and quiet, but the picnic area is expansive, well-spaced, and there are numerous large, old-growth trees. Absolutely perfect for POTA purposes.
Since I had the luxury of these tall trees, I decided to employ the CHA Emcomm III Portable which has quickly become my favorite field antenna. When I have the space, I use it because it gives me 160-6 meters and is easily matched by all of my antenna tuners.
Since I had a great picnic table surface to operate, I also used my Icom IC-705 transceiver and Elecraft T1 antenna tuner.
So turns out, I didn’t take a lot of photos of my site because I used my iPhone to make a video of the activation.
On YouTube, I’ve been encouraged by viewers/followers to continue making real-time, real-life videos of some of my park activations. These videos have no edits and are what I would generously call “Ham Radio Slow TV.” 🙂 The idea is the viewer is simply joining me as I set up and operate at a park–as if they were there with me in person. I hope there’s some value in these videos for newcomers to Parks On The Air.
The video ended up capturing the whole activation from start to finish. If you need something to put you to sleep, check it out:
All in all, it was a brilliant day and I’m pleased to have finally activated these two POTA sites.
It was a particular treat to discover Elk Knob State Park. I can’t wait to go back there to camp and to hike their trails.
Perhaps this is one of my favorite side benefits of Parks On The Air: it gives me a reason to explore state parks I might have otherwise overlooked. We’re huge supporter of state and national parks, so it’s truly a win-win!
Note: the following post was originally published on the SWLing Post.
Chameleon Antenna recently sent me a prototype of their latest antenna: the CHA MPAS Lite.
The MPAS Lite is a compact version of their MPAS 2.0 modular antenna system and designed to be even more portable.
Chameleon Antenna is a specialist antenna manufacturer that makes military-grade, field portable antennas that are low-profile and stealthy. Chameleon products are 100% made in the USA and their customers range from amateur radio operators to the armed forces.
Their antennas are not cheap, but they are a prime example when we talk about “you pay for what you get.” In all of my years of evaluating radio products, I’ve never seen better quality field antennas–they’re absolutely top-shelf.
I’m currently in my hometown doing a little caregiving for my parents. I’d only planned to be here for a couple of days, but when I saw that the remnants of Hurricane Zeta would pass directly over us with tropical storm force winds and rain, I stuck around to help the folks out.
Zeta struck quite a blow, in fact. No injuries reported, but over 23,000 of us have been without power for over 34+ hours in Catawba county. With saturated grounds, the winds toppled a lot of trees and damaged power lines.
Yesterday, I wanted to take advantage of the power outage and get on the air. I couldn’t really do a POTA activation because I needed to manage things here at my parents’ house. Plus, why not profit from the grid being down and bathe in a noise-free RF space–?
I decided to set it up in their front yard.
CHA MPAS Lite
I had never deployed the MPAS Lite before, so I did a quick scan through the owner’s manual. Although the MPAS Lite (like the MPAS 2.0) can be configured a number of ways, I deployed it as a simple vertical antenna.
Assembly was simple:
Insert the stainless steel spike in the ground,
Attach the counterpoise wire (I unraveled about 25′) to the spike
Screw on the CHA Micro-Hybrid
Screw the 17′ telescoping whip onto the Hybrid-Micro
Extend the whip antenna fully
Connect the supplied coax (with in-line choke) to the Hybrid-Micro
Connect the antenna to the rig
Although I had the Icom IC-705 packed, I wanted to keep things simple by using the Elecraft KX2 I’d also packed since it has a built-in ATU.
Important: the CHA MPAS Lite requires an ATU to get a good match across the bands.
I wasn’t in the mood to ragchew yesterday, but I thought it might be fun to see how easily I could tune the MPAS Lite from 80 meters up.
I checked the Parks On The Air spots page and saw NK8O activating a park in Minnesota in CW:
He was working a bit of a pile-up, but after three calls, he worked me and reported a 559 signal report. Not bad at 5 watts!
I then moved to 40, 18, and 20 meter and called CQ a couple times to see if the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) could spot me. I like using the RBN to give me a “quick and dirty” signal report. I was very pleased with the bands I tested:
Those dB numbers are quite good for an op running 5 watts into a vertical compromised antenna.
The KX2 very effortlessly got near 1:1 matches on every band I tested.
Of course, after working a few stations in CW and SSB, I tuned to the broadcast bands and enjoyed a little RFI-free SWLing. Noting 13dka’s recent article, I’m thinking on the coast, the MPAS Lite will make for a superb amateur radio and SWLing antenna.
Although the remnants of Zeta had effectively passed through the area three hours prior, it was still very blustery outside. I was concerned gusts might even be a little too strong for the 17′ whip, but I was wrong. The whip handled the wind gusts with ease and the spike held it in place with no problem.
One of the things I have to watch with my Wolf River Coils TIA vertical is the fact it’s prone to fall in windy conditions and many ops have noted that this can permanently damage the telescoping whip (the weak point in that system).
I’m pretty certain this wouldn’t happen with the Chameleon 17′ whip–it feels very substantial and solid.
Ready to hit the field with the CHA MPAS Lite!
I’m a huge fan of wire antennas because I believe they give me the most “bang-for-buck” in the field, but they’re not always practical to deploy. I like having a good self-supporting antenna option in my tool belt when there are no trees around or when parks don’t allow me to hang antennas in their trees.
I’ve got a park in mind that will make for a good test of the CHA MPAS Lite: it’s a remote game land with no real parking option. I’ll have to activate it on the roadside–an ideal application for the MPAS Lite.