National Parks on the Air
A Little Bit about NPOTA: One of my favorite things to do on the air is contesting. I would much rather have a competition on the air, than ragchew. I like the idea of relaying short pieces of information in an exchange format, and making contact, for just a moment, with someone across the country or the world. I like seeing the tally of stations that I have contacted scroll up the contest log on the computer screen. So when the ARRL announced that there would be a yearlong contest that was in support the centennial of the National Parks System, I got pretty excited. I immediately started plotting all of the fun that I could have with this contest. Unlike other contests (sans Field Day) in which I had been participating from my QTH, this one offered the opportunity for me to get off my lazy duff and start exploring the National Park System. The combination of radio and getting the family out to see some of our amazing parks, as well as perhaps further excite the kids about ham radio? I’m in! Now, here is how the contest works. There are “activators” and there are “chasers”. An activator is someone who goes out to a national park, sets up and runs a station, and chasers are the ones making contact with the park stations. It’s like having two separate contests running off of the same game. Ultimately, all of the scoring is done through the Logbook of the World (LOTW). An activator must have all of the gear located within the National Park Service unit, and must make at least 10 confirmed contacts for the activation to be counted.
Have I left anything out? Yes! But the ARRL has done a very good job of providing all of the materials and rules on their website. Start there to get all of your NPOTA questions answered. (http://npota.arrl.org & http://www.arrl.org/npota-rules) My First Activation: I obtained my first chaser contact back in January, but what I had been looking forward to is a trip that I was taking to Hot Springs, AR, with my wife over the Valentine’s Day weekend. This would be my chance to try out being an activator, and it would give me a chance work the bugs out of taking my ham shack mobile. After buying a few needed items (a lead acid battery, a cooler to put my radio and connectors in, and some wire to make myself a quick portable 20 m dipole), I spent several hours organizing all that I would need out in the field. I went as far as setting up my radio complete with portable power in the back yard with my antenna set up between two trees like I expected it to be out in Hot Springs. Satisfied with the organization, I was ready for the weekend.
Friday (12Feb2016) we were off to Hot Springs. After a day of travelling, I wanted to check-in with the Rangers and let them know I was going to be there and operating. I was a little nervous about this process because they have the right of final discretion, and could have denied me access to use the park for this purpose; however, I found that the rangers were just as excited to have me there as I was to be there. There were excited to repost all of my pictures that I had shared on the ARRL-NPOTA Facebook page on their Facebook page, and invited the public to come up Sunday and see what all the fuss was about. A quick stretch of the dipole between two trees, about 5 more minutes of setup time to ensure that the antenna was still resonant, and I was off and running. After a long day of driving, I decided to keep things a bit simple and stick with SSB on 20m. I called, “CQ CQ CQ National Parks on the Air, November Papa Three Zero, calling from Hot Springs, Arkansas, this is November Five Victor Delta Quebec”
No response. I called again. No response. After my third cast of CQ out onto the airwaves, I was spotted. The pile-ups started coming fast and furious. Everyone was getting in line and on top of each other to get their NP30 Chaser credit. I was only able to put a little time into the two activations while in Hot Springs, but in total I made 72 contacts, and now I definitely have the bug. It was a LOT of fun. I am already plotting my next activation. Stay Tuned…
- Be sure to check in with the rangers. They are in charge of the site. You are just a visitor there!
- Be Organized Take a computer and log electronically. (I use the N3FJP software. It is awesome.)
- Be sure you have updated your TSQL software for Logbook of the World (currently v2.2). You can now indicate the park location in your LOTW logbook (very important for being an activator).