parksontheair.com/POTA - Parks On The Air
Parks on the Air or POTA grew out of the ARRL sponsored program to get hams to visit and operate portable from every US national park during the 110th anniversary year of the establishment of the first national park. That was called National Parks On The Air or NPOTA. The program sparked so much interest that when the year ended another group formed specific to encourage the same idea, hams visiting and operating within national and state parks, recreation areas, forests, etc. And it has been thriving since. I got interested a couple years ago and began "hunting," that is searching on the air for "Activators," guys (and gals) who were operating from a park. More recently I began preparing to be an Activator. As of this writing I've only been to three parks and had just a handful of successful activation but expect to continue. The links above are to pages talking about my activations. The text below describes my preparations for activating.
2020-11-14 Logging! Recording, Preparing, Checking and Submitting contacts is a critical part of the POTA process. After nearly a dozen activations, I've settled on using DIY paper log in the field and then transferring that to the Android phone based VLS Logger for checking and to submit them. I at least am not efficient enough enter them directly into VLS Logger in the field. It goes well if what I enter is correct as I enter it. But the moment I mess up, things go crazy and likely I'll have a busted entry. I've tried a couple other apps as well with similar results. Paper is just more forgiving! I've settled on VLS Logger as it's so simple. And if you use the reference option, choosing POTA, what you export will be exactly what POTA wants. That file is also useful for importing the file into other programs like HRD, etc. I also use the program ADIF Master to fix any errors before final submission.
2020-06-25 Well I came very close to doing my first park activation two days ago. My wife and I and our two local grandkids went to the Wisconsin Rocky Arbor State Park near The Dells in central Wisconsin, about a two hour drive from here for a two night camping trip. On the second day I set up my QRPGuys EFHW using my 15 foot collapsible fiberglass fishing pole mast. It was kind of a dog leg arrangement given the shape of our site but it was up. I connected my X5105 and played around on both 40 and 20 meters for about half an hour. Not many signals. I answered a couple CQs but no one heard me. Then it was time to go eat. The spotty rains had interfered with our on-site cooking plans so we ended up going into The Dells to eat. Not exactly roughing it, but we had a good time anyway. And our tent kept us dry. I had the park number (K-1476) and everything all ready to "just do it," but alas.... Next time!
2020-04-27 I've now made 191 contacts with POTA (Parks on the air) stations as a hunter since my first one back in October of 2018, an average of ten per month. But the pace has picked up. I've averaged 23 per month in the past six months. It is a lot of fun. All have been with 20 watts or less and 15% of them being at 5 watts.
In addition, I've been refining my portable operating kits. I now have two kits ready to go. One is QRP only based around the xiegu x5105 radio. It is light weight, including a backup battery just 6-1/2 lbs including a fiberglass mast. I've used it quite a bit in the back yard and feel pretty confident that it is ready to "grab and go."
The second one is based around the xiegu G90 radio. That kit with a wire antenna and a 20 ft fiberglass pole weighs around 10 lbs.
Antenna wise, I have several good options. My favorite, and I think best performing one, is the EFHW (end fed half wave) based on the QRPGuys transformer kit. A second wire option is a 29 ft end fed wire and 17 ft counterpoise based on the QRPGuys 9:1 UNUN. Both are light weight, small and easy to deploy either using trees or a fiberglass mas.
For situations where the antenna must be free standing I have the Wolf River Coils TIA vertical with tripod. Its bulkier and heavier but not prohibitive, particularly if you can drive to your operating site. I don't think it performs quite as well as either of the other two but it is not a bad option. Many POTA activators use it or one like it.
So, until I get up the courage and opportunity to go do a real POTA activation, I'll keep working with these two kits so when he time comes, I can grab and to with confidence!
2019-09-30 For quite a while now I've been "dreaming" of setting up in a nearby state park and operating as a POTA station. In fact I made plans to do that this summer on a Boundary Waters Canoe trip with my two sons and one grandson. At the last minute I scrapped those plans out of concern for weight and time. That was a wise choice as there really wouldn't have been time and it would have taken me away from the main purpose, to spend time with those guys. But that didn't kill the original idea.
I have two rig packages that are perfect: First, my Xiegu X5105. Second, my more recent Xiegu G90. I've actually had both in the field, the X5105 to a local lake with a friend and the G90 to a local forest preserve. Both performed well. I used the Wolf River Coils TIA 1000 vertical antenna for both which performed well also. Both setups were light, simple to set up and easy to transport.
My G90 and Wolf River Coils vertical on a picnic bench at nearby Seno Forest Preserve.
While waiting for the courage to actually get serious about it, I've started being a "hunter"! The POTA Spots web page on their website makes that really simple. Simply look at who is on what frequency, tune up and give a listen! And if they are in range for current propagation, give them a call. Most of them I've worked have been SSB but some CW. And with patience, I almost always get them if I can hear them. The secret, since I'm running 20watts or less seems to be to wait until the big guns have had their turn and then call. It is actually pretty simple and is also fun!