Ridley Creek Redux

I try to get out for some QRP-portable operation at least once each week. To get my fix this week, I made a trip down to Ridley Creek State Park (K-1414/KFF-1414).

It’s been about seven months since my last visit. Back then, I was recovering from knee surgery, and I got to hang out with someone’s pet pig. 

This time out, I used my little TR-35 and my trusty 19-foot vertical. The bands seemed a little weak today. Nevertheless, I logged 45 contacts over the course of my 90-minute activation. I had one park-to-park contact, but no DX today. 

WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414/KFF-1414)
WB3GCK at Ridley Creek State Park (PA) (K-1414/KFF-1414)

Before I got started, I broke out my antenna analyzer to take a few measurements on the vertical. When I built the antenna over five years ago, I did the initial tweaking with it mounted close to ground with four ground radials. I knew that the resonant frequencies shifted significantly, when using the body of the truck for ground. Because of this, I have always used a tuner to keep my rig happy. I’m thinking about possibly building another one and optimizing it for use on the truck. Of course, after making tons of QSOs over the past five years with the current antenna, I guess there’s no real hurry. 

I hope you all have a very happy and healthy holiday season. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Three-in-One Outing

I combined three activities into one outing today. The Polar Bear QRP Club was doing a Polar Bear Moonlight Madness Event (PBMME), and the SKCC Weekend Sprintathon (WES) started today. I planned to make some contacts in both, while doing a POTA activation.

The Polar Bear group traditionally schedules outings on the Saturday nearest a full moon. Rather than hold a separate on-air event, the Polar Bear ops are encouraged to conduct their usual portable operations (e.g. POTA, SOTA, picnic table portable somewhere, etc.) and give the other Polar Bears a heads-up so they can keep an ear out for them. The SKCC WES is held every month, and it just happened to coincide with the PBMME.

For today’s event, I chose to do a POTA activation at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380). I used my Penntek TR-35 (CW @ 5W) and my 19-foot vertical. I operated from the West Launch parking area with a beautiful view of the lake. My plan was to call “CQ POTA” on each band for a while. Before changing bands, I planned to “search and pounce” looking for Polar Bears and SKCC stations. 

Western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (PA)
West Launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (PA)

After about two hours, I had 37 contacts in my log. I spent most of my time making POTA contacts, so I only made three SKCC QSOs. I found two Polar Bears on the air, however. NJ7V was doing a combined POTA and SOTA activation out in Arizona. I saw Charlie’s spot come up on the POTA website, so I called him on 20M. We had a “tuner-upper” on the frequency, but we got our park-to-park QSO done. I also had a park-to-park QSO with AE5X, another Polar Bear member. John was activating a park down in Florida. Altogether, I had ten park-to-park QSOs today. 

I have to say this was a fun way to spend a chilly December morning.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Duct Tape to the Rescue

I made a run down to the White Clay Creek Preserve (K-6433) for a POTA activation this morning. It’s been about a year since my last visit to this park. While I had a successful activation, it was not without some equipment issues.

After an hour-long drive, I rolled into a parking area near the park office. As I began setting up my homebrew vertical, the eyelet at the top of my Black Widow pole snapped off. This pole has seen heavy use over the past 25 years, so something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. 

So, I rummaged around in the truck for something that would temporarily attach my antenna wire to the top of the pole. Searching through a plastic milk crate that I keep in the truck bed, I found something that would do the trick—a roll of duct tape. Unfortunately, this roll of tape has been in the truck bed for years through freezing cold and scorching heat. As a result, this sad-looking roll of tape was stuck fast to the bottom of the crate. With the help of a large screwdriver, I pried it loose. Eager to get on the air, I tore off a piece of tape and secured the antenna wire to the top of the pole.

My broken antenna pole and the duct tape attaching the antenna wire
My broken antenna pole and the duct tape attaching the antenna wire

With my antenna finally installed, I got started with my trusty TR-35 (5 watts). The bands didn’t seem very strong this morning, but the hunters still heard me. After a little more than an hour, I had 38 contacts, including five park-to-park QSOs. Up on 17M, I also heard from stations in Italy and Puerto Rico.

WB3GCK at White Clay Creek Preserve (PA)
WB3GCK at White Clay Creek Preserve (PA)

As I was taking the antenna down, things got interesting again. Remember that sad-looking duct tape? Well, it didn’t want to come off the antenna pole without a fight. With considerable frustration and a few choice words, I got the tape off of the pole. Unfortunately, my antenna wire (#26 stealth wire) incurred some damage in the process. 

I guess I have a few repairs to add to my to-do list.

72, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Big Elk Creek State Park

For most of this year, I’ve fallen into the habit of activating the same familiar parks. Today, I wanted to go out to a park I haven’t been to before. After looking at the map on the POTA website, I chose Big Elk Creek State Park (K-9721/KFF-6093) as today’s destination. 

Big Elk Creek received its state park designation back in September, making it one of Pennsylvania’s newest state parks. I did a little Google Earth reconnaissance to get a feel for the area. There are no amenities to speak of, but it has some trails and two trailhead parking lots. I entered both trailheads into my navigation app before heading out.

Big Elk Creek near the Springlawn Trail
Big Elk Creek near the Springlawn Trail

After driving about an hour, I stopped first at the Springlawn trailhead. Being a low-lying area, it didn’t look promising for radio. A sign showed that the trail was closed temporarily because of hunting in the area. I moved on to the second parking area shown on the park map. 

I pulled into the Fair Hill Trailhead. This spot was wide open, had good elevation, and I was the only one there. I set up my usual Penntek TR-35 (5 watts) and my homebrew vertical

Fair Hill Trailhead in Big Elk Creek State Park
Fair Hill Trailhead in Big Elk Creek State Park

I started on the 40 meters CW. Right after I spotted my location and frequency, I was greeted by a large pile-up that took a little while to work through. Being a new park, Big Elk Creek has only been activated a handful of times. I’m guessing that’s what attracted all the hunters.

During my activation, I also spent time on 30, 20, and 17 meters. After about an hour and 15 minutes, I had 42 stations in my log. I had three park-to-park QSOs, and I also worked England, Italy, and Portugal. 

Right as I was reaching for the power switch to turn off the radio, I heard PG4I calling “CQ SKCC” on 17M. I quickly grabbed my straight key and called him. We exchanged our SKCC info, and Jo gave me a 559 from the Netherlands. That brought my total to 43 with four DX contacts today. 

A car pulled into the parking lot as I was taking down my antenna. The driver walked over to inquire about my antenna. I gave him a brief explanation of the Parks on the Air program, and we had a nice chat about the park. He told me about the trail that heads south for about a mile to the Maryland state line. The Fair Hill State Natural Area (K-6387) is just across the state line.

I’m planning to come back at some point to do a little hiking and activate both Big Elk Creek and Fair Hill.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Black Friday POTA

Traditionally, the day after the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. is the start of the Christmas shopping season. People flock to the stores looking for bargains. This time of year is typically when stores start turning a profit (operating in the black), hence the name “Black Friday.” Wanting to avoid all of that craziness, I went a different way and headed out to a nearby park for a POTA activation.

For a variety of reasons, I haven’t been on the air much this month. I was overdue for some QRP-portable operating, so I headed to nearby Evansburg State Park (K-1351, KFF-1351). It was rainy here in southeastern Pennsylvania this morning. When I arrived at the park, I was the only one there for a while. 

WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351) on a damp and dreary morning
WB3GCK at Evansburg State Park (K-1351) on a damp and dreary morning

I set up my TR-35 (5 watts) inside the truck and installed my trusty 19-foot vertical on the back. The hunters quickly showed up after I spotted myself. I had my required ten contacts in about ten minutes. After I had logged 16 contacts on 40M, a station came on frequency and started CQing. I figured that was a good time to check some other bands.

The organized chaos inside my truck
The organized chaos inside my truck

Up on 20M, the signals didn’t seem as strong. Nevertheless, I picked up 15 more contacts. I made four more contacts on 17M before pulling the plug. 

After a little more than an hour, I ended up with 36 contacts. Among those were four park-to-park contacts. I also logged four DX contacts: DL1AX (on two bands), SP6GNJ, and F4ILH. 

It felt great to be back out activating. Hopefully, I can get back out again over the weekend.

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at Swatara State Park

I had a rare free day today. The only thing on my agenda was to drive out to see my grand-kids in central Pennsylvania. I made a last-minute decision to activate a park on the way there. 

Just minutes before I left the house, I looked at the map of parks on the POTA website and selected Swatara State Park (K-1426/KFF-1426). I’d never been there, so I took a quick look at a map of the park and spotted a trailhead with restrooms. So, I put the address for the Trout Run Trailhead in my GPS and took off. 

I rolled into the parking lot about 90 minutes later. Except for a park maintenance truck, I was the only one there. I quickly set up and got busy. The rig today was my TR-35 (5 watts) and my trusty 19-foot vertical

WB3GCK all alone in the Trout Run trailhead parking lot at Swatara State Parks
WB3GCK all alone in the Trout Run trailhead parking lot at Swatara State Park

The cell coverage was great, so I easily spotted myself. A minute or two later, the hunters came calling. I spent most of my time on 40M, but I also made contacts on 30M and 20M. 

After about 90 minutes, I had 54 CW contacts in the log. Among those were six park-to-park QSOs and one DX contact (CU3AA).

Swatara State Park is another park worth further exploration. There aren’t many amenities, but there are lots of trails. It appears to be a popular spot for mountain biking. 

Trail signs at Swatara State Park. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, but I wasn't close enough for a "two-fer."
Trail signs at Swatara State Park. The Appalachian Trail runs through the park, but I wasn’t close enough for a “two-fer.”

There was a trailhead for the Appalachian Trail just down the road from where I was. If I hadn’t been so hasty with my planning, I could have gone there and activated a “two-fer.” Maybe next time. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

POTA at French Creek State Park

Hopewell Lake Sign in French Creek State Park

Normally, my (far) better half and I do a lot of camping in French Creek State Park (K-1355/KFF-1355). This year, because of medical and other issues, we didn’t take the QRP Camper out at all. In fact, it’s been about a year since our last camping trip there. So, I paid a visit to French Creek this morning for a long-overdue POTA activation.

Virtually all of my activations in this park have been from campsites. This morning, though, I operated from a parking lot near a picnic area and boat launch. I operated from my truck, using my TR-35 (around 5 watts) and my 19-foot homebrew vertical

  • Hopewell Lake in French Creek State Park (K-1355/KFF-1355)
  • Hopewell Lake in French Creek State Park (K-1355/KFF-1355)

My cell coverage wasn’t very good, so I had trouble spotting myself. Fortunately, the Wi-Fi in my truck uses a different carrier and allowed me to get my spot posted. Almost immediately, the hunters started calling.

After an hour, I had 36 in the log, including two park-to-park contacts. I also worked Germany and Poland on 17M.

Hopefully, we’ll be getting back to camping at French Creek again next year. In the meantime, I’ll be doing some more activations here for sure. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Support Your Parks Weekend – Fall 2022

I haven’t activated a park recently, so I made a point to get out today. This weekend is the Parks on the Air Fall Support Your Parks weekend. What better time to activate?

I made a last-minute decision to head back to the western boat launch area in Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380, KFF-1380), a site I’ve been to a few times in the past year. Looking at the surrounding terrain, you would think this is a terrible location. It’s down at water level near the lake, and you have to descend a large hill to get down there. Despite the terrain, I’ve always had good luck from there. Today was no exception. Not to mention there’s a beautiful view of the lake. 

WB3GCK at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380)
WB3GCK at Marsh Creek State Park (K-1380)

Using my TR-35 and my 19-foot vertical, I started out on 40M. Initially, I had a little trouble spotting myself. Even before I was spotted, a station in New York stumbled upon me and got things started. Eventually, my spot went through, and things really picked up. I made 28 contacts on 40M in the first 45 minutes. Up on 30M, I picked up 11 more contacts.

Before I left, I checked 17M, and I’m glad I did. I was getting some very strong Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spots from Europe. In short order; I had three contacts, with the last two being SP6GNJ and CU3AA. Happily, my puny five-watt signal was making the trip across the pond. 

Support Your Parks Weekend activator certificate
Support Your Parks Weekend Activator Award

I ended up with 42 contacts, including two park-to-park QSOs, and the two DX contacts. Right after I uploaded my log, I received a certificate for activating a park during Support Your Parks weekend. I made a few contacts as a hunter yesterday, so I also received a hunter certificate. 

Note to Self: Get out for more POTA activations.

73, Craig WB3GCK

Fall Weekend Outings

I was long overdue for some portable QRP, so I went out twice over the weekend. As a bonus, we had some beautiful Fall weather here in southeastern Pennsylvania.

On Saturday, I headed up to my daughter’s property, intending to make some contacts in the Straight Key Century Club’s (SKCC) Weekend Sprintathon (WES) contest. I used my TR-35 with my 19-foot vertical mounted on my truck. 

My hilltop location on Saturday
My hilltop location on Saturday

The bands, especially 20M, were in good shape, and I made a half-dozen SKCC contacts. There were a lot of Parks on the Air (POTA) activators, so I spent most of my time hunting them. The Pennsylvania QSO Party was also going on, and I logged a few of them, too. 

On Sunday, I went for a bike ride on the Schuylkill River Trail and stopped in a park for a little radio time. This time I used my newly acquired (tr)uSDX with my ground-mounted 19-foot vertical. 

My bike-portable setup on Sunday
My bike-portable setup on Sunday

The bench I was sitting on was getting full sun from time to time, which made reading the radio’s display a challenge. There were some loud signals on 20M that seemed to overload the radio’s front end. I could have used some attenuation, but, not being able to read the display clearly, I didn’t attempt to navigate the menus. (Note to self: Stay in the shade next time.) Despite these challenges, I logged three SKCC stations receiving good signal reports from each of them. 

Nothing really exciting this weekend, but it was great to get back out portable again. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

A Public Service Weekend

I haven’t been very active on the HF bands lately. Family functions and other obligations have been keeping me busy. This weekend, however, I was able to take part in two different ARESRACES events.

On Saturday morning, our local ARES-RACES group conducted a Simulated Emergency Test (SET). Because of the heavy rains forecasted, most operators participated from home. During the brief exercise, I sent an NBEMS message and a Winlink peer-to-peer message to the county Emergency Operations Center over local 2M simplex frequencies. I used my little Evolve laptop, and it performed great.

On Sunday, our ARES-RACES group provided emergency communications for the Marshalton Triathlon. This annual, family-friendly event combines cycling, canoeing, and speed walking. This year I was once again stationed at “Canoe Out,” which is the terminus of the 2.3 mile canoe run on the Brandywine River.

  • A water-logged WB3GCK at the Marshalton Triathlon
  • A crew was on hand to help participants disembark safely
  • The boat handlers did a great job in some very muddy conditions

This year’s triathlon was a wet one. It rained steadily for most of the five hours I was onsite. Despite the lousy weather, the participants seemed to have a good time. After the last canoe arrived, I was able to head home and dry out. 

Hopefully, I’ll get back to doing some QRP-portable operating this week.

73, Craig WB3GCK