Featured image: Pam Illig – Prince Gallitzin State Park
By Bill W3FRB
You always see something exciting in PA park. Whether it’s a landscape, natural feature, or wildlife. Usually, a person with a radio and a bunch of electronic gear is not something that you would expect at a park. While rare, there are some amateur radio operators or hams communicating in the State Parks and Game Lands in Pennsylvania. This is their story.
What is Amateur Radio
Amateur Radio is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics, and communication together. Hams use radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or cell phones. Ham radio is fun, social, and educational, and can be a lifeline during times of need. Hams comprise all ages, sexes, income levels, and nationalities. To become a ham, you need to get an Amateur Radio license from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The Amateur Radio Relay League (ARRL), is a non-governmental national association for amateur radio, connecting hams around the US with news, information, and resources. If you’re interested in becoming a ham, please visit their site at Http://www.arrl.org.
A fun fact, hams usually only know each other by their first name and their FCC license call. For example, my call is W3FRB and people know me as Bill W3FRB.
Parks on the Air (POTA)
Amateur operators can operate their radio station either from their homes or in a portable location like a park or vehicle. Some hams like to only operate in parks or contact hams operating in parks. Hams also like contests where they get awards for contacting other hams. Combining contesting and a love of parks gave rise to the Parks on the Air (POTA) program in ham radio.
Parks on the Air hams are a subset of hams that either seek to operate in parks. POTA began as an ARRL contest for the national parks’ 100th anniversary in 2016. Many amateur radio operators enjoyed the event so much that they decided to continue the fun beyond the one-year event and extend the rules by allowing state parks and game lands. Thus, POTA was created in early 2017. More information about POTA can be found at https://parksontheair.com.
Our focus is on park activators, the hams who set up their radio station in a park. That communication can be by voice, computer, or Morse Code.
I have included the experience of four radio operators that are passionate about both parks and amateur radio.
Pete K0BAK, Collegeville PA
We have a very radio-active community in Pennsylvania Parks and State Game Lands. In PA, there are currently 482 Parks and State Game Lands that radio operators can activate. Pete Kobak (K0BAK), POTA PA mapping coordinator and avid park activator says, “Pennsylvania is fortunate to have an abundance and variety of POTA sites that allow activators to choose the style of POTA activations that they prefer. From urban to isolated, easy parking to rocky off-roading, crowded parks to quiet forest trails, you can make your activations as easy or as difficult as you want. There are even sites that can only be accessed on foot or via boat.”
Pete has been involved with POTA since the beginning and has an impressive record of 888 park activations and over 36 thousand contacts across North America.
Judy KC3JAS, DuBois PA
If you’re out in Moshannon State Forest or the surrounding PA Games Lands in the wintertime, you might come across a radio operator in a Red Eskimo Portable Fishing Shelter.
Judy, KC3JAS is a year-round park activator. With over 28 thousand contacts and 256 parks, Judy is very active in POTA and a promoter of ham radio in general. Both she and her husband Steve (KC3SKS) made several YouTube videos about her activations and equipment, written articles for CQ Magazine, and spoken to several radio clubs across America. Judy became involved in 2019 when another ham took her along to activate Parker Dam State Park. Judy also frequently uses the PA parks and game lands for other ham radio activities besides POTA.
Greg WA3GM, Horsham PA
While most POTA participants use voice to communicate, Greg, WA3GM, is primarily (or 99.999% as he says) a Morse Code park activator. Greg activated 197 parks in Pennsylvania and Florida and made seven thousand contacts since he began POTA in early 2021. Like most of us, Greg heard about POTA from another ham, Tom, K4SWL. What he really enjoys is getting outside in the parks and having a chance to experiment with the radio equipment (a true ham tenet). “I get a chance to enjoy the park, experiment with antennas, and play radio,” he says.
Bill W3FRB, Pottstown PA
Like the others, I became interested in POTA in 2020 when I went to a park with another park activator, Walt, KB3SBC. I’ve been a ham for about eight years, but my interest was waning. POTA changed everything. It allowed me to become a better radio operator, understand my craft more, and enjoy our wonderful PA parks. I have activated 26 parks and have about 500 contacts, but they all have been in PA. I had a chance to explore parks I have never seen before and learn more about the state. Occasionally, I do have people stop and ask what I am doing, and I tell them a little about ham radio.
So, the next time you see someone talking on a radio sitting at a park bench or in a shelter with antennas, stop and say, ‘Hi’. They will most likely enjoy talking about parks and ham radio.