Parks on the Air started in 2018 and has seen significant growth as more amateur operators discover the benefits and fun of activating a Park or participating on the hunting side. Being outdoors in a pristine environment while making QSO contacts can become addicting.
"The positive thing about POTA is it teaches you how to set up an antenna in a remote location with typically limited resources," says Scott D, AA2SD. In addition, POTA helps to encourage radio operators to develop their skills in a real-time live environment. POTA is also a great way to demo the overall capabilities of our hobby to the general public and enjoy the outdoors with your favorite hobby.
Photo from Valley Forge Historical Park
I was new to Ham Radio last year, and I just started with a Technician Class, General, and now Amateur Extra certification. I have been fortunate to have local Elmers Rick WC2K, Sam KF3G, Joe KC2SGV, and Alan K3WWT, along with Ken and the SJRA Club, to assist and guide me with the many facets of this hobby. The first thing I did after passing my certification was to join the ARRL and the South Jersey Radio Association in New Jersey.
I typically do not enjoy contesting, and due to the limited capability of antennas in my home location, I have experienced difficulty breaking into a pile-up during a contest. I operate from a townhome with HOA antenna restrictions and can not install a large outdoor antenna. Additionally, interference from my attic antennas was becoming more frustrating.
Photo from Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge
I learned about POTA, or Parks on the Air, and tried it at Cape May Point State Park. Operating in an outdoor environment, with less local interference and being on the other side of a typical pile-up, was eye-opening. Since this first activation, I have activated (40) different park locations throughout Southern New Jersey, including Wharton State Forest, Cape May, Hammonton, East End Lighthouse, the Edgar Allan Poe House in Philadelphia, Valley Forge, Ridley Park, and many more.
Recently, after meeting Ken on the SJRA Net, I have started to activate parks as an approved K2AA operator. Since beginning with SJRA, we have successfully activated (20) parks with excellent support from our Club members.
This past January, we successfully activated the Emilio Carrazea historical monument in Wharton State Forest with (4) SJRA Club Members. Joe KC2SGV, Gerard KD2YTU, and Robert KF2Z supported this activation. We enjoyed a mild January day and excellent propagation for this activity. You can view the YouTube Video of the activation here.
As part of my Parks on the Air process, I carefully plan each site visit with Google Maps and use the official State Park boundary maps to stay within the designated areas. Another excellent resource is Google Earthy Pro, to check the elevations of the local sites before setting up your station.
I decided to document each Parks On the Air Activation with SJRA on a YouTube channel. This channel features a brief overview of the park area, antenna setup, and the local area and. I include some of the local nature experienced during the visits. You can visit the consolidated Parks on the air website at the following link. https://www.youtube.com/@AA2SD
Photo from John Heinz National Wildlife Area Parks on the Air Activation
Planning for a Park activation is necessary, including antenna testing at home, which park to visit, mapping your route, and virtually scouting your site. I suggest a site visit via Google Maps ahead of time to check road access to remote areas.
Here is a brief list of tips I learned from my recent Parks on the Activities.
Plan the Park You Want to Activate:
Determine your schedule, including time to travel to and from the location, and antenna set up and take down, and stay on schedule to maximize your on air time.
Check the weather, and plan and dress accordingly.
Document your process, I use an Android phone camera to keep things as light and simple as possible. I record SWR, antennas used, band conditions etc.
Keep a simple log,I a use a paper journal for contacts, frequency, and weather
Use the POTA spotting page, this will help you get your first 10 contacts
Bring a small backup equipment box, I bring a long a small tray type box including connectors, tape, zip ties and other in the field needed supplies.
Determine your power source, are you using an external battery pack or powering via your car?
Pre-determine which antenna set up you will use, you do not want to spend time experimenting in the field.
Use a smaller portable radio, to reduce weight like a FT891
Photo from Salem River Wildlife Management Area
Overall, I can fit my entire POTA setup into one medium size backpack, plus the antenna set up. This allows me to walk into an area if required. My battery supply is set up in a hand-carrying portable box with quick disconnect connectors. I typically also strap on a 35MM Nikon camera to catch the local flora and fauna at my park site location.