When it comes to parks, I haven’t picked up many new-to-me “uniques” lately.
In truth, though, I’ve put more effort into activating unique summits which takes more time to plan, plot, and activate. SOTA has taken a bite out of my park uniques, but I’m good with that because to me it’s less about my park/summit numbers and more about the exploration and outdoor radio time.
On Tuesday (July 6, 2021) however, I added one more unique to my 2021 park count: Mountain Island Educational State Forest (K-4858).
This park is actually a modest detour during my weekly travels, but I’ve never popped by for an activation. You see, unlike other state parks I visit, Mountain Island isn’t yet open to the public on a daily basis. On their website, they state that visits must be arranged in advance, so I reached out to them the morning of July 6 and they promptly replied, welcoming me for a visit and activation that very same day!
Off the beaten path
Since this state park isn’t yet open to the public, I didn’t see the typical brown highway signs pointing me to the park entrance, but Google Maps steered me right to the front gate where there’s a sign.
The gates were unlocked and open, so I pulled into the property and met with two of the park staff who were incredibly kind and accommodating. They were both familiar with the Parks On The Air (POTA) program which made it much easier for me to ask about spots where I could set up my station.
First, though, I wanted to know more about Mountain Island Educational State Forest so I asked ranger Laura about the history of the site.
Turns out, Mountain Island is the newest Educational State Forest in North Carolina and has been in the works for more than 20 years.
The Forest is a vast conservation area that protects 12 miles of shoreline on Mountain Island Lake in the Catawba River Basin. This lake is the primary drinking water supply area for Charlotte, Mecklenburg and Gaston Counties. She told me that one in 23 North Carolinians rely on this area for their source of water.
Much of the land was originally owned by Duke Power who put it up for sale in 1998. Conservation groups purchased the land from Duke’s real estate agency in 1998 and put it into a conservation easement. The land is actually in two counties (Gaston and Lincoln) and a portion in the city limits of Gastonia.
The NC Forest Service now manages the forest and supports the public-private partnership with the counties, municipalities, and conservation groups.
Mountain Island has been actively educating school groups and the public about the river basin and local flora/fauna for many years by appointment. Currently, a new education center is being built on the property and will soon be open to the public with regular business hours. Being so close to population centers, I imagine they’ll stay busy!
Park ranger Laura was kind enough to allow me to set up under a huge tree in front of their ranger station.
I was grateful for the shade: it was 92F (33.3C) and humid.
There were no picnic tables under the tree, but I happened to have two folding chairs in my car. I used one as a table and the other as a chair. I flipped over my GoRuck GR1 backpack to make a stable base for the Yaesu FT-817ND.
- Yaesu FT-817ND
- Elecraft T1 ATU
- 28.5 foot speaker wire antenna using one BNC Binding Post Adapter (affiliate link)
- N0SA portable paddles
- GoRuck GR1 USA
- Bioenno 3 aH LiFePo Battery (Model BLF-1203AB)
- Ham Radio Workbench DC Distribution Panel
- Weaver arborist throw line/weight and storage bag (affiliate links)
- Tom Bihn Large Travel Tray
- Rite In The Rain Weatherproof Cover/Pouch (affiliate link)
- Jovitec 2.0 mm Mechanical Pencil (affiliate link)
- Muji A6 Notepad (affiliate link)
- Portable Zero FT-817 Side Rails and Bail
On The Air
I was super pleased to put the Yaesu FT-817ND back on the air. It’s been a while since I’d used it in the field because my review radios (TX-500, X5105, etc.) have taken priority.
I love the FT-817ND and believe it’s actually an exceptional transceiver for CW and SSB ops. The CW full break-in QSK is wonderful and I actually like the mechanical sound of the T/R relay switching (if you like pin diode switching, you should look the other way, though!). With the 500Hz CW filter installed, the front end is pretty bullet-proof, too!
This was the first time I had paired the FT-817ND with my 28.5 foot speaker wire antenna. The random wire antenna needs a good ATU to match impedance, so I employed the Elecraft T1 this time (soon I’ll also try the LDG Z-100A).
I had planned to do a little SSB work, but quickly realized I’d forgotten the FT-817ND microphone. A shame because this site actually has excellent mobile phone service so I could have spotted myself to the network. Next time–!
I started on 40 meters CW and worked ten stations in 21 minutes. That’s a perfect pace for me!
Next, I moved to 20 meters where I worked six more in 9 minutes.
I was incredibly pleased with how well the speaker wire antenna performed–especially on 20 meters.
From the Piedmont of North Carolina, I worked Montana, Texas, New Hampshire, and Italy with 5 watts into $4 worth of speaker wire.
I did a quick back-of-the-envelop calculation and discovered that I yielded about 943 miles per watt!
To be clear, IK4IDF did all of the heavy lifting in our contact with his 9 element Yagi, but still it’s awfully exciting to put DX in the logs with only fair propagation.
Of course, I made a real-time, real-life video of the entire activation (save the set-up and take-down):
Click here to view on YouTube.
Onward and upward!
I packed up quickly because I had a SOTA activation planned that afternoon on Anderson Mountain. I’ll post a field report and video of that activation soon.
Rev 4 FT-817 Buddy Board
Also, I’m about to start soldering together G7UHN’s new Rev 4 FT-817 Buddy Board! Revision 2 worked wonderfully, but revision 4 now includes a CW memory keyer among other upgrades! (Woo hoo!) All of the components are now in the shack–just a matter of soldering them together and programing the Arduino Nano. Andy, if you’re reading this, expect a call from me soon, OM!
I’d like to thank all of you for reading this field report and I’d especially like to thank those of you who contribute to QRPer.com via Patreon and our Coffee Fund. While my content will always be free and QRPer is very much a labor of love, your support helps me purchase gear and supports my radio travels. With that said, if you’re saving up for your first radio or need to invest in your own kit, I’d rather you support yourself.
My goal with QRPer is to champion field radio operations and encourage others to discover the benefits of playing radio outdoors!
Have a wonderful week!
Do you enjoy QRPer.com?
Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!
Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!