by Craig Grimm-KD6NFD
Like many others I have spent the last year hunkered down amid the pandemic with little opportunity to travel or be outside. As the world has begun to re-open, I have looked for ways to spend more time outdoors. I stumbled upon a way to combine being outside with my love of amateur radio with Parks on the Air (POTA).
What is Parks on the Air?
POTA is an amateur radio program that promotes portable operation from State and National Parks. These parks are given special unique designation numbers by the POTA program that allow operators to track park locations they have either operated from or made contact with. There are over 300 designated POTA parks in California and over 8,000 in the U.S. By operating within park boundaries you are “activating” the park to make contact with other amateur radio operators outside of the park. Park operators are known as “Activators.” An operator outside the park trying to contact a park activator is known as a “Hunter” or “Chaser.” The most common modes for activation include voice, CW, and more recently FT8.
Setup and Activation
On Saturday Feb 20, 2021 I ventured to Malibu Creek State Park (designated as POTA K-1169) to try my first POTA activation. I arrived at the park around 8 a.m. and selected a location with a picnic table, pergola for shade and a close parking spot.
I brought along a Yaesu FT-991A all mode HF/VHF/UHF radio, a 35AH lead acid battery, a laptop with N3FJP logging software, a MFJ fiberglass telescoping 30’ mast, and a MFJ end fed 10m-40m wire antenna. End fed antennas can be erected in several ways such as sloping, inverted L or inverted V configuration. I selected an inverted V configuration to keep my footprint small and avoid extending any support lines outside the perimeter of the table/pergola location. Within 20 minutes of arrival I had secured the telescoping mast and lifted the antenna wire into the air.
I tuned around the 20m band listening for stations and heard a station calling CQ. I responded and was pleased to receive a 59 signal report from South Dakota, which told me my antenna set-up was performing well. After completing the contact I moved on to find an empty frequency to start my POTA activation.
I began calling “CQ Parks on the Air” and within a few minutes multiple stations started responding and before long I had a pile up going.
A typical POTA exchange goes like this:
Activator: “CQ CQ CQ Parks on the Air, from Kilo Delta Six November Foxtrot Delta (KD6NFD), CQ Parks on the Air”
Hunter: (hearing the activator calling CQ gives his/her call sign) “Alpha One Xray Yankee Zulu”.
Activator: “A1XYZ, thank you for the call. You are Five-Nine into K-1169, Malibu Creek State Park in California”
Hunter: “Thank you for K-1169, you are Fine-Five into Florida. Thanks for the park activation and 73”.
Activator: “Thank you and 73. QRZ from KD6NFD, Parks on the Air”
(Next hunter calls and sequence repeats)
Over the next five hours I completed 119 contacts (QSOs), with operators in 36 US States and Canada including six who were also operating from other POTA designated parks. These are known as Park to Park (P2P) contacts.
Here is a map of my POTA contacts created on http://qsomap.org.
The POTA program encourages activators to submit an electronic log of their contacts to the local POTA coordinator. Logs are then verified and loaded into a master database that provides statistics such as how many times a park has been activated and QSO counts for activators and hunters. I also uploaded my contacts to and have even received a few paper QSL cards which I will respond to by sending my own QSL card back.
Going QRT (off the air)
Overall, this was a successful activation with some pleasant surprises. A few thoughts I came away with:
- Setting up your radio equipment on battery power in an unfamiliar setting is a great way to practice for emergencies.
- Working a pileup is a great way to practice radio procedures, organization and communication cadence.
- The noise level at the park is much lower than at my home, I could hear weak signals that I might not have heard from home.
- Your antenna does not have to be perfect, just get something up in the air.
- You will get strange looks and questions from passersby, it’s a great opportunity to educate and promote amateur radio.
I plan to activate more parks in the future and I would encourage all amateur radio operators to try their own POTA activation. I look forward to hearing you on the air!