The Lakeland Amateur Radio Club has been trying to activate all 12 of the Florida National Park Entities this year as K4LKL. We did several earlier in the spring, but for a lot of reasons didn’t get a chance to make any park excursions over the summer. No longer! We are going to make a concentrated effort to finish the remaining activation before the end of 2016.
While I was already going to the parks anyways for the club, I figured I might as well grab some activation credit for myself as well. Having recently gotten into satellite operation, it was a perfect fit. Since most passes only last around 10-15 minutes, and use small unobtrusive antennas and radios, it’s easy enough to stop anywhere in the park with a decent view of the sky and work the required 10 (or more!) stations for a successful activation.
KI4NBE, N4PEG, N4ESS, and myself made the first of our whirlwind fall park trips on Saturday, Oct. 29th. We left central FL at 4:45am.. and made the ~2hr drive to the intersection of U.S.17 and Interstate 75 in Punta Gorda. Which just happens to be in grid square EL86. Which just happened to be needed by a few other sat ops for their VUCC awards 🙂
We stopped there for the 7:00am SO-50 pass, working Glenn AA5PK, Tucker W4FS, and David XE3DX for grid credit, and then headed to Big Cypress Swamp (park PV03) for the next SO-50 pass at 8:45am.
That was quite a trip… thankfully there was no heavy traffic or slowdowns on the way. We made it to the park boundary halfway through the pass…right at TCA. I pulled off the road about 200′ inside of the park boundary and frantically hooked up my rig and antenna.
Our location within the park boundary for Big Cypress, PV03
Thanks to N8HM, W5PFG, NP4JV, AA5PK, and NJ7H for the (really fast!) contacts in the last 4 minutes of the pass. I made up the rest of the required 10 contacts simplex between members of the group as we pulled out, heading south to Everglades (NP18).
And then the rain…
This is what it looked like through my windshield nearly all day..
We were not expecting to rain nearly as much as it did.. on and off for several hours. We were going to attempt to operate at the Shark Valley Visitors center in Everglades. However, after consulting the radar, we decided it would be better to continue down to the Ernest Coe Visitor’s center at the southwest side of the park. This would have us driving through the heaviest part of the rain, and we would end up much closer to our final destination for the day, Biscayne National Park.
After another hour or so of driving, we arrived at the visitor’s center just in time for the 12:44pm AO-85 pass.. found a good spot near the visitors center, and set up for the pass.
AO-85 from Everglades, NP18
Me operating with George, KI4NBE looking on
It was a pretty good pass, and I was able to hand out EL95 to a few folks that needed the grid. The pass would have gone a lot better if it hadn’t been for whoever was keying a solid carrier for the last ~2 minutes of the pass…but I digress. 🙂 I made 6 or 7 contacts, and then we moved back to the visitors center to set up in the parking lot for HF using the club callsign, K4LKL.
Rich, N4ESS operating 20m CW from NP18
George, KI4NBE working the pileup on 17m SSB
Because of CQWW SSB that weekend, the regular bands were pretty much a no-go for any voice modes. So we decided to stick with 17m for voice, and 20m for CW. Rich had brought a Buddipole to put up in the bed of his truck, and George has a Tarheel mounted to the toolbox on his. Spots posted, pileups generated, and I headed back down the road to work FO-29.
Getting ready for FO-29…with 25mph winds blowing.
I picked up 6 more contacts on FO-29, rounding out to 12 for a successful park activation. Thanks to KO4MA, AA5PK, N6UK, K6FW, and K8YSE/7 for the QSOs!
After the pass I headed back to where the others were still rolling along on HF. George especially had quite the pileup going on 17m. Since it was getting so late in the day, we decided it might be best if I took of on the half hour drive to Biscayne, and left the others operating at Everglades. So I took off for NP05.
Stopped for the obligatory park sign selfie
10 minutes after I pulled out, I hit rain again. Rain that was heading due west. Due west being where George and Rich were operating…
One very hurried phone call later, and they were able to at least get the radios inside before the rain hit… While the others tried to stay dry, I made it to Biscayne on the other side of the showers.
Had about 10 minutes to spare, so I had enough time to scout out a nice operating location for the 8 degree eastern SO-50 pass
not too bad of a horizon! Blowing ~30mph…had to brace the antenna to hold it still
Thanks to everyone who was on that pass, I had no trouble making 13 contacts to qualify for the activation. Packed up the antenna, and pulled across the parking lot to try HF using the club call sign. I first put up my 20m hamstick dipole/painters pole on the back of my car..flipped on the radio and couldn’t find a single clear frequency in the entire 20m voice band. Ok, scratch that. Plan B, since the others were off the air in Everglades and already on their way home, was 17m.
I only have one 17m hamstick, so my highly efficient setup consisted of unscrewing my 2m/70cm antenna from the magmount on the roof of my car and swapping it for the 17m hamstick. Found a clear frequency, posted a spot to the dx cluster and BOOM: instant pileup! I had no idea that Biscayne, NP05 was as needed as it was. There had only been 6 activations to date before I was there on Saturday. I had a good path going for 20 minutes or so, working several CA stations, including a couple who needed the park for their NPOTA honor roll.
Sadly, I only wound up with about 15 minutes to operate..partly because I had to leave by 5pm in order to make it back across the state to EL86 for the XW-2C pass. Also partly because I got a visit from 2 very nice park police officers… one of the maintenance guys at the park had seen my painters pole on the back of my car and had the officers come check out my operation.
They were very nice, and actually seemed interested in what I was doing. I told one of them that I had just worked a station in Ontario. His response? “Ontario!? I can’t even reach my dispatcher from my truck half the time!” 🙂
They wished me a nice afternoon, and I turned back to the waiting pileup. In a total of 13 minutes operating time, I worked 16 stations when the band seemed to fade on me. After a few fruitless calls, I shut everything down and took off for EL86…3 hours drive through “Alligator Alley” on I-75, and made it with 8 minutes to spare before the pass.
Fernando, NP4JV was the primary reason I had come back to operate from EL86, so I was glad to work him. I never heard him on the first pass, XW-2A, so switched to XWX-2C…and nearly busted the contact by tuning the wrong direction for doppler.. but luckily he found me on his SDR display and we were able to complete the contact for a new grid!
After the pass, I gassed up the Element and headed back up US-17 for home. A total of 20 hours driving, 3 parks, 2 grids, almost 600 miles – and one very happy activator, ready for the next trip!
Thanks to all the operators for working me and making the trip a success! Don’t know what we are going to do next year after NPOTA ends.. might have to start working on FL State Parks on the Air 🙂