Category Archives: NPOTA

1937 Field Day

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This weekend was Field Day, an activity in which Amateur Radio Operators set up portable equipment and make as many contacts as possible during a 24 hour period.

My own effort this year was very minimalist. I operated as I did for most of my National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations, with my 5 watt Yaesu FT-817  with a Hamstick antenna mounted on the car. I only operated for about an hour, but made 13 CW (Morse Code) contacts to places such as Quebec, Florida, Kentucky, and North Dakota. My power supply consisted of my 12 volt fish finder battery,

Back in the day, both the equipment and the power supplies were much more intimidating, and a successful Field Day operation almost required a team effort. This video shows Field Day eighty years ago in 1937. The film shows W8NCD/8, the Charleston (WV) Amateur Radio Club. It is narrated by W8NCD, who is now a Silent Key.

Field Day has always been primarily a fun social activity, but it also has a serious side. It shows that amateurs are ready for emergency situations. In 1937, hams were able to set up at a remote location, without external electric power or any other infrastructure, and be in contact with the rest of the world. In 1937, there weren’t any cell phone towers, but hams managed to communicate around the world. Today, there are cell phones available, but in the location I was at today, at the bottom of the St. Croix River Valley at William O’Brien State Park, cell service is not available. But with five minutes of setup, I was on the air and communicating, just like they were in 1937



NPOTA and WWFF

The ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event concluded on December 31, 2016. During this year-long event to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS), Amateur Radio operators set up their stations in NPS units to make contacts with other stations at home.

1494 hams participated as “activators” by setting up stations in the parks, and almost 17,000 participated by making contacts with them. A total of just over 1.1 million individual two-way contacts resulted. I closed out the year with a total of 59 activations, putting me in 64th place nationwide. I made contact with 329 different parks, giving me a ranking of 386th place out of those 17,000.

The March 2017 issue of QST contains an excellent article summarizing the year’s activity, and it is available for free PDF download at the ARRL website.

Even though NPOTA has now ended, there was a great deal of interest in continuing it in some fashion.  The activity isn’t as frenzied, but many hams are continuing to get out to the parks and do activations as part of World Wide Flora and Fauna in Amateur Radio (WWFF).  WWFF is a very similar concept to NPOTA, but as the name implies, it is worldwide.

The program got its start in about 2008 in Russia by the Russian Robinson Club, and has been very popular in Australia and Europe.  During my activations, there were a number of familiar European stations who kept working me, undoubtedly as part of the WWFF program.  With the tie-in to NPOTA, the North American chapter of WWFF has achieved similar popularity.

While NPOTA focused on National Parks and other NPS properties, WWFF includes many other parks, including most state parks in the United States. I haven’t been on the air yet from the parks, but in addition to the local NPS units I was able to activate in 2016, I can now do similar operations from other metro area locations, such as William O’Brien State Park, Fort Snelling State Park, and Afton State Park, as well as from most of the other state parks in Minnesota and surrounding states.

Most of my activations during 2016 focused on metro-area parks, but some of them, such as my activations of the Lewis & Clark Trail and the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, were done in conjunction with business travel.  Great minds obviously think alike, as shown by Vance, N3VEM‘s recent activation of a metropolitan park in Florida while traveling for business.

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Photo courtesy of N3VEM.

As he details at his blog, he recently had a business trip to Florida from his home in Pennsylvania. He immediately began researching parks in the area, and discovered Oleta River State Park, which is actually located minutes from downtown Miami. Rather than book a stay in a more conventional hotel, he rented a rustic cabin at the park, which allowed him do his activation after work.  He packed his FT-857, which is almost identical to the FT-817 I used for most of my activations, the difference being that his radio puts out 100 watts as opposed to my 5 watts.  His complete station set up in the cabin is shown at the left.  His antenna consisted of dipoles for 40 and 20, shown below.

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Photo courtesy of N3VEM.

One of the major successes of the NPOTA program was to encourage hams to learn new operating techniques.  In particular, many hams discovered that Morse code (CW) can be extremely effective if conditions are marginal or if the station is less than optimum.  Because NPOTA focused on portable operations, most of the activators were using stations that were less than optimal.  For that reason, more than one ham discovered or rediscovered how effective CW can be, even with extremely simple equipment.

n3vemQSOIt looks like that tradition is continuing with WWFF, since N3VEM became one of the hams to discover CW.  Vance has been licensed only since 2014, and by the time he got his license, the requirement to pass a code test to get a license had been gone for a number of years.  But even though it’s no longer required, it’s still permitted, and he used this activation to make his first ever CW contacts.  And his very first CW contact was with me!

To show how versatile CW can be, it should be pointed out that Vance didn’t even have a key with him.  But like my radio, his allows the microphone to be used as an emergency key, and he used the mike buttons to send the dots and dashes.  When I worked him, the band conditions between Florida and Minnesota were very poor, and I could barely hear his signal.  It would have been absolutely impossible to work him using voice.  But with CW, it was a fairly easy contact, despite his signal being almost completely buried in the noise.

Our first CW QSO was very slow, probably about 5 words per minute.  But I’m sure he’ll discover that speed will increase rapidly as he gets on the air, and I have no doubt that I’ll have future CW QSO’s with him.



Peace Light and NPOTA: Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

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I was recently in Iowa to present some Continuing Legal Education programs in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.  Whenever possible, I like to combine trips, and I used this opportunity to take part in two other events.

Cedar Rapids is close to the birthplace of Herbert Hoover in West Branch, Iowa.  It is the location of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, as well as the Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.  I’ve been looking forward to putting this National Park Service (NPS) unit on the air during the NPS Centenial year as part of the  ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.  During this event,  Amateur Radio operators are setting up their equipment in NPS units  to make contact with other Amateurs around the world.  Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular.  There have been over 900,000 individual two-way contacts made from the parks, and it appears almost certain that this number will top a million before the end of the year.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with over 300 different parks and operated multiple times from parks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

I was especially eager to operate from President Hoover’s birthplace, since he played such an important role in the history of radio.  Indeed, his son was an avid amateur radio operator, and served in the 1960’s as president of the American Radio Relay League, the national organization sponsoring the event.

img_20161201_164804I didn’t have time for a long operation, but I was able to spend about an hour operating from the parking lot of the historic site’s visitor center, as shown in the photo above.  President Hoover’s birthplace home is barely visible in the photo (just to the left of the larger building in front of the car.  Despite the short time available, I managed to make contact with about 30 stations, all CW (Morse Code), ranging from Alaska to Florida.  After operating, at dusk, I paid my respects at the gravesite of President and Mrs. Hoover, shown here.

img_20161203_145243The next day, I used my drive home to the Twin Cities to transport the Peace Light of Bethlehem from Des Moines to the Twin Cities.

For at least the past several hundred years, and possibly more than a thousand, a lamp has continuously burned at the grotto of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the traditionally accepted location of Christ’s birth.  Since 1989, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides of Austria have annually sent a child to Bethlehem, who lights a lamp from the light and returns it to Austria.  From there, it is passed on around Europe during the Advent season.  Since 2000, the Peace Light has been delivered to North America where volunteers, most of whom are connected with Scouting, deliver it around the country.

This year, there was a gap in the distribution, and it wasn’t making it to the northern tier of states.  I coordinated with members of the Peace Light North America Facebook group, and made arrangements to meet with an Iowa Scouter in the parking lot of a Des Moines coffee shop.  From his kerosene lantern, we lit my lanterns, shown here, and I took the burning lanterns home.

From there, others have come to light their candles and lanterns, and the same ancient flame is burning in lamps in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Another volunteer from North Dakota is on the way here, and within a few days, the Peace Light will be burning in North Dakota, Manitoba, Montana, Washington, and probably other places along the way.

Many are curious as to how the Peace Light crosses the Atlantic.  It is transported by Austrian Airlines in the passenger cabin of an aircraft.  The ailine transports the flame from Israel to Austria, and then to New York and Toronto.  The flame is held within a blastproof miner’s lamp, which allows the open flame to be transported safely by air.  At Kennedy Airport, it’s walked through customs by an airline employee to the airport chapel, where a ceremony is held attended by those who fan out around the country to transport it.  Among those were one or more volunteers who transported it to Chicago.  From there, it went to Davenport, Iowa, where it was picked up by the person who gave it to me.

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NPOTA: Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

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Preparing to send RF ‘cross the wide Missouri.

During the 2016  ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event,  Amateur Radio operators are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) by setting up their equipment in NPS units  to make contact with other Amateurs around the world.  Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 13,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS and over 700,000 individual two-way contacts.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 281 different parks and operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

One of the event’s successes has been encouraging visits to the parks.  Until recently, my activations have been confined to the NPS units in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Last week, I had to be in Sioux City, Iowa, for one of my continuing legal education programs.  The city lies along the path taken by Lewis and Clark as the traveled from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean, and is therefore part of an NPS unit, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.  Because the trail’s sheer length, and because it passes through so many other notable sites, it is the NPOTA’s most popular activation site, with over 13,000 individual contacts made.  Since my son had recently been studying Lewis and Clark in school, I decided to bring him along.

Sioux City marks the point where the only death during the 1804-06 Corps of Discovery’s expedition took place.  Sgt. Charles Floyd is buried under a prominent obelisk on a bluff overlooking the river.  The Sioux City riverfront contains two museums devoted to Lewis and Clark’s journey.  The first is in a drydocked former riverboat, the M/V Sergeant Floyd.  The ship was an Army Corps of Engineers Inspection Vessel.  Interestingly, the ship contains a ham station, although it’s supposed to be a recreation of the ship’s radio room.  As you can see from the photo below, the radio room is equipped with an E.F. Johnson Viking Valiant and a Hallicrafters S-40.  Even though these amateur rigs appear to be out of place, it was interesting to see this inadvertent ham station set up.

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dsc01371The museum also contains the forensic reconstruction of Sgt. Floyd shown here, created from a plaster cast of his skull.

The second museum on the riverfront is the Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which includes animatronic versions of Lewis, Clark, President Jefferson. and “Seaman,” the expedition’s Newfoundland dog.

Conditions were relatively poor the day I visited the site, and my initial attempt with a mobile antenna was unsuccessful.  Since the day was nice, I returned and set up a dipole at a picnic shelter overlooking the river and made ten contacts on 20 meter CW.

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National Parks On The Air: Appalachian Trail

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During 2016, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is conducting its National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event, in which  Amateur Radio operators set up their equipment in units of the National Park Service (NPS) to make contact with other Amateurs around the world.  Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 13,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS and over 700,000 individual two-way contacts.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 278 different parks, operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and plan to activate additional parks in the Midwest before the end of the year.

One of the surprises of this event has been the popularity of the National Scenic Trails.  I’ve operated from two, the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Ice Age National Scenic Trail.  These operations are a bit more challenging, since the event rules require all equipment to be hand carried to the operating location, rather than operating from a vehicle.  I would have expected this restriction to make the scenic trails less popular, but the reality has been quite different.  In fact, two scenic trails are in the top ten of parks activated.  The North Country Trail has seen 249 activations with 9932 individual contacts, and the Appalachian Trail has had 239 activations with a total of 6700 contacts.

The Appalachian Trail is probably the most famous of the nation’s National Scenic Trails.  It runs 2130 miles from Georgia to Maine.  I’ve made a number of contacts with stations on the trail.  Some of them were with small stations carried during long multiple day hikes.  Others were located closer to civilization,

(C) Copyright 2016 Tim Carter All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

(C) Copyright 2016 Tim Carter All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.

Shown here is one of those in the latter category (as judged by the availability of pizza rather than dehydrated meals)  by Emily, KB3VVE, Keith, KB3FVN, and Tim, W3ATB, operating on a section of the trail in Pennsylvania.

Seventy-five years ago, 1941oct13life1this day’s issue of Life Magazine, October 13, 1941, carried a feature on the Appalachian Trail. The photo at the top of this post, a cabin along the trail at Shenandoah National Park, is from that article.   The photo at the right shows those same hikers approaching the cabin after an October snowstorm.  According to the article, the trail was completed in 1937.  As of 1941, only four persons had hiked the entire trail, but none of them had done so in a single uninterrupted session.  In contrast, thousands of hikers now hike the entire length of the trail each year.



1946 NPOTA Activation

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During the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service, the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) is conducting its National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event.  Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, the event has been extremely popular, with over 11,000 activations from 450 different different units of the NPS (with only 39 not yet activated), with over 640,000 individual two-way contacts.  As I’ve reported in other posts, I’ve made contact with 251 different parks, operated multiple times from six parks in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and plan to activate additional parks in the Midwest before the end of the year.

Even though this event is recent, operating portable from the National Parks is nothing new, as shown from the photograph above, which appeared seventy years ago this month in the September 1946 issue of Radio News.

Shown here are members of the Washington Radio Club operating Field Day 1946 from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Shown here are Dick Houston, W4QPW (apparently at the mike), along with Major Eric Ilott, G2JK, of the British Army (later VE3XE), and club secretary Barbara Houston. They are operating a 25 watt phone rig on 10 meters, with a Hallicrafters Sky Champion serving as the receiver. Power was supplied by a 300 watt gasoline generator.

Ilott, apparently at the left in the photo, served in the British and Canadian military until his retirement as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1974. He immigrated to Canada in 1947. During the war, he served as a listener for the British War Office, sending reports to Bletchley Park. Among his accomplishments after the war was bringing the first ever television signal to Kingston, Ontario, from an antenna atop a water tower. He died in 2015 at the age of 95.  (For another look at the early days of bringing distant TV signals to town, please see my earlier post on the first TV in Marathon, Ontario.)

1946 was the tenth running of the ARRL Field Day, an event in which hams set up stations at portable locations to make as many contacts as possible.

I previously wrote about the 1941 Field Day, in which the high scoring station had made 1112 contacts. That would be the last Field Day before the war, and the one shown here was the first postwar Field Day. According to the results in the February 1947 issue of QST, the top 1946 scorer made 809 contacts.

But the results article noted that it would be pointless to compare the 1946 results with those of prewar Field Days, since operating conditions as of June 1946 were quite different. In particular, hams had not yet regained access to the 160, 40, and 20 meter bands, which had been the workhorses for the prewar events. The 1946 Field Day was limited to 80 and 10 meters on HF, along with the 50, 144, and 420 MHz bands.

Shenandoah was not the only national park being activated in 1946. In addition, according to the results article, there were operations from Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and a battlefield national park in Virginia, as well as numerous other venues.

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Photo courtesy of N3KN.

While the Washington Radio Club took the honors of activating Shenandoah National Park in 1946, my own 2016 contact took place on February 8 on 20 meter phone.  Fortunately, the 20 meter band was returned to hams shortly after the war, as the contact on 10 or 80 meters in 1946 would have been considerably more challenging.  My contact was with Kay Craigie, N3KN, shown here.  In addition to being an avid NPOTA chaser, activator, and member of the NPOTA Facebook group, Kay is the immediate past president of the ARRL (a select group which included Herbert Hoover, Jr.).  She was at the helm of the ARRL when the NPOTA event was proposed and adopted.

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NPOTA: St. Croix National Scenic Riverway

St. Croix River looking north from Interstate State Park, Minnesota. By Aaron Fulkerson –  CC BY 2.5.

Last week, I did two National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) activations of the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway.  I did both of them from William O’Brien State Park in Minnesota.  My station consisted of my  Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery,  The antenna consisted of a Hamstick mounted on the back of my car.  The QRP (low power, 5 watts) radio and very modest antenna have proven quite effective, especially on 20 meters.

During the ARRL NPOTA event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 11,000 activations from 449 different different units of the NPS (with only 40 not yet activated), with over 600,000 individual two-way contacts.

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William O’Brien State Park, Minnesota. By Greg Seitz (The.dharma.bum at English Wikipedia) – Photo by Greg Seitz (The.dharma.bum), CC BY-SA 2.5.

I made the quick jaunt to William O’Brien on Friday in order to work Patrick, N9OQT, who was set up at the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Indiana.  Patrick was there doing an Amateur Radio demonstration for a conference of state park superintendents from around the country, and he put out a call for activators to work him from different state parks around the country.  My five watts can be extremely effective using CW (Morse Code), but I thought it would be a challenging contact using voice.  However, since one of the purposes of the event was to demonstrate Amateur Radio to the gathered park officials, Patrick wanted to use voice only.  I started out by setting up in the parking lot of the park’s visitor center.  Even though this location is quite a distance from the river, it’s at a much higher elevation, and I thought it would make the difficult contact easier.

I needn’t have worried, since he copied my 5 watt signal quite well.  I immediately drove down to the river, and he copied me quite well from there as well.  He made a total of 124 contacts, including a total of eight state parks around the country.

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Patrick Twigg, N9OQT photo.

Patrick’s operating location was an interesting juxtaposition of history and modern technology.  He was set up in the recreation of Thomas Lincoln’s (Abe’s father) 1820’s carpentry shop.  In addition, he reported local interference from roosters crowing in the background.  His radio and logging computer are shown on the old workbench, with the power source being the battery shown on the floor.

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Carpentry Shop at Lincoln Boyhood Home, Patrick Twigg N9OQT photo.

After working Patrick, I went to CW and worked about 30 more contacts over the course of the next hour.

On Saturday, my son and I made another trip to the St. Croix River, and I decided to do another activation.  We spent most of the day exploring the glacial potholes at Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  The parking lot near the potholes is more than a hundred feet from the river, and the other unit of the park has somewhat difficult access due to road construction.  So we decided to stop at William O’Brien on the way home, where I set up in the same spot as the previous day near the boat landing.  This time, I didn’t get “spotted” on the DX cluster, so I spent about an hour answering other calls in order to make my required 10 contacts.  The most interesting contact was with Jim, K7MK, who was doing a SOTA activation in Idaho.

Shafer Butte, Idaho. National Forest Service photo.

Shafer Butte, Idaho. National Forest Service photo.

Summits On The Air (SOTA) is another Amateur Radio activity in which hams set up temporary stations on various mountain summits.  These can range from very modest summits that can be reached by car, to ones requiring serious mountaineering skills.  Jim’s location appears to be one that was somewhere between these two extremes, as he was atop the 2311 meter Shafer Butte in Idaho.  He reports that his activation involved a 6 mile hike, including a 1400 foot vertical ascent.

William O’Brien is a 1520 acre park founded in 1947, and located on the St. Croix River less than an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul.  It’s location close to the metro area makes it an extremely popular park, but its being on the St. Croix can make it very much of a wilderness experience.

Minnesota’s Interstate State Park is located slightly further away from the Twin Cities, in Taylors Falls, Minnesota.  It was founded in 1895.  The main visitor center is located immediately adjacent to the downtown area of Taylors Falls, and the campground and other facilities are located about a mile down the river.  It’s also a very popular park with Twin Cities residents to explore the glacial potholes, and is also a popular venue for rock climbing.  It is located across the river from the Wisconsin state park bearing the same name, from which I’ve done a previous NPOTA activation.



NPOTA: Touro Synagogue, Rhode Island

Touro Synagogue. National Park Service photo.

Touro Synagogue. National Park Service photo.

During the ARRL National Parks On The Air (NPOTA) event, Amateur Radio operators are setting up their stations in various units of the National Park Service (NPS) and making contact with other Amateurs around the world. Since the beginning of the year, there have been over 9000 activations from 444 different different units of the NPS (with only 44 not yet activated), with over a half million individual contacts.

One interesting aspect of this event is learning about the different parks, some of which I did not even know existed.   For example, in an earlier post, I wrote about the fascinating history of Kalaupapa National Historical Park in Hawaii, a remote settlement originally set aside for persons suffering from leprosy.

Synagogue interior. Wikipedia photo.

This week, I learned, by talking to someone there, of another important site in American history, Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in Newport, Rhode Island.  In addition to being the oldest synagogue in the United States, the site is important as a symbol of religious liberty for all Americans.  The synagogue still houses an active congregation, Congregation Jeshuat Israel, as it has since 1763.  It was designated a National Historic Site in 1946, and is an affiliated area of the National Park Service.

The congregation itself was founded in 1658.  The ancestors of the founders had fled Europe for the Caribbean in search of religious freedom, and the founders of the synagogue ultimately fled to Rhode Island for even greater liberty.  It was well established by 1790, when President George Washington wrote his letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport,” in which he vowed that the new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”

The congregation does an annual reading of President Washington’s letter, the next scheduled for August 21, 2016.

This week, the park was put on the air by students from Rogers High School Ham Radio Club, W1VRC.  Most national parks can be easily “activated” by individual hams simply pulling in and operating from a parking lot or picnic table.  But many culturally sensitive sites, such as this synagogue, require more advance planning, and W1VRC worked with the site to do an activation that was both sensitive to the site, and also well planned from a radio point of view.  With their advance planning, they were able to put up a 132 foot long Windom antenna, that put out an effective signal but was unobtrusive.

In sanctioning the activation, the Synagogue found especially compelling the youth involvement as the students made contacts.  The young operators all did an excellent job, and there were many compliments as to their professionalism as they  made 185 contacts, including one with me.  This operation was actually a trial run for a larger activation, which will take place on August 7, 2016.  If you’re a ham, I encourage you to try to work them.  The best place for up-to-date information on frequencies is the NPOTA Facebook group. More information about W1VRC’s activation is also available at the school’s website.

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NPOTA: Interstate State Park, Wisconsin

Taking down my station after operating.

Taking down my station after operating.

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Glacial pothole at Interstate State Park. National Park Service photo.

On the Fourth of July, I did another activation for National Parks On The Air (NPOTA), an event in which amateur radio operators set up portable stations at National Park units and make contact with other amateurs at home.  The event has been very popular, and there have been hundreds of thousands of contacts made from the parks.  Even though I don’t live near an actual National Park, there are hundreds of National Park units around the country, many of which are close to home.  Three of them are located in Wisconsin very close to the Twin Cities area.  Those are the St. Croix Wild and Scenic River, the Ice Age National Scenic Trail, and the Ice Age National Scientific Reserve.  The trail covers 1200 miles as it loops through Wisconsin, the river is the state’s western boundary, and the Scientific Reserve is made up on nine Wisconsin State Parks, one of which is  Interstate State Park, located less than an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN.  The trail and scientific reserve get their name from the geological features, since the landscape was carved out by the glaciers.  The spot from which I operated was called the Pothole Trail, since it contains massive potholes carved into the rock by the action of rushing water as the glaciers receded.

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Myself and my assistants at the trailhead before starting the arduous quarter mile hike to the operating location.

In my earlier trip to scout out the area, I confirmed that there was a small area where the three National Park units came together.  The park’s western boundary is the river, so any operation within 100 feet of the water qualifies as being from the river.  Operation from the scenic trail must be within 50 yards of the trail, and the operating location must be reached using human power.  For most of my river and park activations, I’ve operated from my vehicle.  But in order to activate all three units simultaneously, I needed to reach the site on foot.  In my earlier trip, I did confirm that there were spots within 100 feet of the water and 50 yards of the trail.  I forwarded this information to ARRL, which made the spot a “threefer” for NPOTA purposes.  This week, together with my wife and daughter, I set out to operate from that small area.  (My son is at scout camp this week at Tomahawk Scout Reservation, which coincidentally also lies along the Ice Age Trail near Rice Lake, Wisconsin.)

At the marker showing the western terminus of the trail. My station is contained in the blue bag over my left shoulder. The golf ball retriever served as walking stick and antenna support.

At the marker showing the western terminus of the trail. My station is contained in the blue bag over my left shoulder. The golf ball retriever served as walking stick and antenna support.

My station consisted of my  Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery,  The antenna consisted of a 20 meter inverted vee supported by my trusty golf ball retriever  in the center and tied to some convenient trees with string.  I carried a folding chair, and my operating table consisted of a boulder conveniently left behind by the last glacier.

As I was setting up, I ran into another ham, KD0IYR, who happened to be climbing in the area.  To help ensure I made my required ten contacts, I handed him my $30 Baofeng UV-5R and worked him twice, on 2 meters and 70 cm.  I then worked my wife, KC0OIA, on both of those bands.  With four contacts out of the way, I only needed an additional six to make the activation official.

After setting up my antenna, I started calling CQ, and had my wife spot me on DXSummit.fi.  Within seconds of her posting the spot, I had callers.  I made ten contacts in the next fifteen minutes.  Unfortunately, after fifteen minutes, the spot disappeared off the DX cluster page, and I didn’t get any more replies.  I made my ten contacts, even without counting the four orchestrated ones, but it’s still somewhat disappointing how many chasers depend on the cluster, when there are easy units to be worked simply by tuning around and listening.  My best DX was S58AL in Slovenia.

After things quieted down, I tuned around and worked K2M, one of the stations in the Thirteen Colonies operating event.  Band conditions were not the best, but I did tune the phone band.  I heard one other park on the air, but was unable to raise him before he had to QRT.  I called CQ for a few minutes on SSB, but with no takers.

 

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NPOTA: National Trails Day from Jay Cooke State Park, MN

TR04aJune 4, 2016 was American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day®.  Since many trails are units of the National Park Service, they are taking part in National Parks On The Air (NPOTA), an event in which amateur radio operators set up portable stations at National Park units and make contact with other amateurs at home.  The event has been very popular, and there have been hundreds of thousands of contacts made from the parks.  The North Country National Scenic Trail qualifies as a “National Park,” allowing me to operate from one of the Minnesota state parks crossed by the trail.  The North Country Trail extends from eastern New York to North Dakota.  As the trail passes through Minnesota, it becomes the Superior Hiking Trail, which runs from Jay Cooke State Park along the north shore of Lake Superior to Grand Portage.

On National Trails Day, a group of hams put together an event called  Light Up The Trail in which stations were set up at various locations in all of the states along the North Country Trail.  As I did a couple of weeks ago, I operated from Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesota, about 25 miles south of Duluth.

The weather wasn’t quite as cooperative as it had been with my previous activation, since there was a light rain when my son and I arrived at the park.  Undaunted, we moved a picnic table close to two trees what would serve as a support for a tarp.  I used my trusty golf ball retriever as a tent pole on one corner, and secured the other corner to the table itself.  A few taut line hitches had the protective shelter up in a few minutes, and I was ready to get on the air.  My original plan was to set up dipoles for 40 and 20 meters, but with the rain coming down, I decided to stick to 20 meters only, since the total antenna length was only 32 feet.  I used an inverted vee with the center supported by the golf ball retriever, and the ends tied to a tree and another picnic table.  The radio consisted of my  Yaesu FT-817, powered by a 12 volt sealed lead acid fish finder battery,

Old fort at Crown Point, New York, the eastern terminus of the North Country Trail, and my first contact. Wikipedia photo.

The activation was shorter than I had planned, but I managed 16 contacts in less than an hour of operating.  My very first contact was with N1NDN who came back to my voice CQ from the eastern end of the trail at Crown Point State Park on Lake Champlain, New York.  He had a very good signal, and didn’t seem to have any trouble copying my 5 watt signal.  I also made contacts with two other parks, W3OK at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and W5NO at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

My last contact was with AA0AW, who was operating from the North Country Trail in Duluth.  After packing up, we made a short stop at their location for an “eyeball QSO.”  A group of Duluth hams had a large multi-operator operation, and had worked about 150 contacts by the time we stopped by.

Swinging Bridge prior to 2012 flood. Wikipedia photo.

St. Louis River, just upstream from the park. Wikipedia photo.

The site from which I was operating,  Jay Cooke State Park, lies next to a rapids of the St. Louis River. Because the rapids is impassible by canoe, it was the location of a portage used by both Native Americans and European fur traders, and remained in use until the 1870’s when a railroad was built in the area.   The portage was an important link between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.  From the portage, travelers could navigate the river to Savannah Portage, a six-mile link to the Mississippi watershed.  Jay Cooke park was formed in 1915 and remained largely undeveloped until the 1930’s when the Civilian Conservation Corps built a number of structures. I was right next to two of these. The most iconic structure in the park is the Swinging Bridge, a pedestrian bridge crossing the river. A rickety version was in place as early as 1924 (a picture is available at this site), until 1933 when the more substantial suspension bridge was built by the CCC.  That bridge endured until a massive flood in 2012, but the bridge has since been rebuilt to its 1930’s specifications.

River Inn Jay Cooke.JPG

River Inn Visitor Center, Jay Cooke State Park. Wikipedia photo.

My operating location was right behind the River Inn, a picnic shelter and small museum, also built by the CCC. I toyed with the idea of operating from inside the building, which had a roaring fire going in its fireplace. But unfortunately, there was no convenient way to get my antenna cable outside, so I decided to go with my expedient blue tarp.

Back of the River Inn from my operating location. The golf ball retriever is visible holding up the tarp and antenna.

Back of the River Inn from my operating location.  The golf ball retriever is visible holding up the tarp and antenna.

The 2012 flood which destroyed the bridge continues to have an impact.  Minnesota Highway 210, which serves as the access to the park (and has the distinction of being a Minnesota state highway running through a small section of Wisconsin) is still closed east of the park.  The $21.3 million reconstruction of the highway is scheduled to be completed in October 2016.

Here’s some raw video shot by my son, which will give you an idea of my operating location:

 

 

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