by William Eric McFadden

Support-Your-Parks Summer 2019 RATpedition, Day 2

From the Tar Hollow State Forest website:

Tar Hollow State Forest originated from the Ross-Hocking Land Utilization project of the 1930s. The purpose of the program was to locate families to more productive land, thereby enabling them to better sustain a living. Following termination of the project, the land was leased to the Division of Forestry, and finally transferred to the State in 1958. Tar Hollow is Ohio's third largest state forest, containing 16,354 acres.

A wealth of recreational activities are available at Tar Hollow State Forest. A 46-site primitive horse camp is located at the south end of the forest on Poe Run Road. Latrines are provided at the camp, but electricity and drinking water are not available. Radiating from the horse camp are 33 miles of bridle trails. All bridle trails are south of the fire tower.

A 22-mile network of hiking trails is located in the northern half of the forest.

Seventeen miles of paved forest roads and 14 miles of gravel forest roads provide a great opportunity for a scenic drive and allow good access to all areas of the forest.

From the North Country National Scenic Trail website:

Come to the North Country. Trek the hills and valleys. Stand on the shores of lakes & streams from glaciers 10,000 years before. Clear-flowing water, red/gold of autumn, a fairyland of snow, open prairies, and distant horizons paint the land. Historic sites along the way tell how America settled and grew as a nation. From North Dakota to New York (and soon Vermont), adventure is never far away.



On Sunday, July 21, 2019, on the second day of the two-day Support Your Parks Summer 2019 event, two members of the Southeast Ohio Radio Adventure Team undertook an operation to activate three POTA units in southern Ohio. Eric McFadden, WD8RIF, and Josh Cash, KE8EAS, drove to the Tar Hollow State Forest region to visit and activate Tar Hollow State Park (K-1996), Tar Hollow State Forest (K-5452), and North Country National Scenic Trail (K-4239) as part of the Parks on the Air (POTA; link) program.

Since Eric had already performed an activation of Tar Hollow State Park, the pair decided Josh would activate Tar Hollow State Park first while Eric would proceed further into the State Forest to activate Tar Hollow State Forest and North Country National Scenic Trail. After completing his activation of the State Park, Josh would join Eric and perform his own activations of Tar Hollow State Forest and North Country National Scenic Trail. The pair also hoped to perform park-to-park QSOs between all the units while testing their field-antennas on multiple bands.

Josh set up his station at a picnic area near the Logan Hollow Camprground. His station consisted of his FX-9A transceiver and an end-fed wire fed through a 9:1 unun and supported on a Spiderbeam 40' telescoping fiberglass mast. For these activations, Josh borrowed an LDG Z-11 QRP autotuner to see if his antenna could be used on all the HF bands.

After dropping Josh and his gear off near the Logan Hollow Campground, Eric proceeded to the firetower in Tar Hollow State Forest where the North Country National Scenic Trail crosses the forestry road in order to perform sequential activations of Tar Hollow State Forest and North Country National Scenic Trail. Eric chose to set up at the base of the firetower—which can no longer be climbed by the public—and his station consisted of his Elecraft KX3 transceiver and his 28½' wire vertical supported on an MFJ-1910 33' telescoping fiberglass mast. Eric fed his wire through a 4:1 unun and arrayed three 17' radials on the ground.

While Eric was still getting to his location and setting up, Josh managed a CW QSO with an Apollo 11 special event station.

Eric began operations by calling CQ on 80m in the hopes that his friend and fellow SEORAT-member K8RAT would see the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) spot and call him for a QSO. Alas, none of Eric's 80m calls resulted in RBN spots so no QSOs with K8RAT we made.

Eric and Josh had just enough 2m FM signal between the two locations to coordinate the beginning of their run of park-to-park QSOs between the two locations. With Josh still at Tar Hollow State Park, the pair made park-to-park QSOs between the State Park and the State Forest on 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40, 60, and 80m. Then they made park-to-park QSOs between the State Park and North Country National Scenic Trail on the same nine bands. Eric found it interesting to see how the signal strength of Josh's signal changed according to band even though their signals must have been propagating exclusively via ground-wave. Eric was pleased to find that his KX3's internal ATU could easily match his 28½' vertical on nine bands and Josh was pleased the LDG Z-11 was able to match his end-fed wire and 9:1 unun on all nine bands.

Josh and Eric both called CQ numerous times on several bands from their respective POTA units in hopes of working other POTA hunters. Eric was able to verify later that his CQs on 20m and 40m had, indeed, been picked up by RBN but no spots were generated on the POTA Spots website. Of course, both Eric and Josh were well out of cell-phone range at their locations, so no self-spotting was possible. (Perhaps, had the firetower been climbable, Eric might have found sufficient signal there to text K8RAT to him to post spots for them.)

With no spots appearing, no hunters responded to the CQs, so no additional POTA QSOs were made. Eric did tune the bands but found no other POTA CW activations. He did manage a pair of QSOs with W4A, the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary Special Event Station in Huntsville Alabama on 40m, with one QSO being from Tar Hollow State Forest and the other being from North Country National Scenic Trail.

Eric tore down his station and, after a bit of photography, drove back to Josh's location, and returned with Josh to the firetower so Josh could perform his own activations of both Tar Hollow State Forest and North Country National Scenic Trail. Josh deployed his station at the entrance to the trail leading to the walk-in campsites, under the shade of trees, and Eric re-deployed his station, also under the shade of trees this time. Given the earlier complete lack of success in finding interested POTA hunters—probably due to lack of spots—Eric and Josh concentrated on making park-to-park QSOs in all combinations of Tar Hollow State Forest and North Country National Scenic Trail, with each operator activating each unit. This time, Josh and Eric made QSOs on 10, 12, 15, 17, 20, 30, 40, 60, 80, and 160m. Interestingly, remarkable differences in signal strength was noted as the pair worked through the bands despite the relative proximity of the two stations.

All Eric's QSOs were CW and were made at the 5-watt level.

These activations probably wouldn't be considered "conventional" but several lessons were learned, the most important being that spotting to the POTA Spots website at is absolutely critical to working hunters; it seems that perhaps few POTA hunters tune the bands seeking parks to work anymore. A second lesson is that late morning on a Sunday might not be the best time for POTA activations—were the east-coast hunters in church and the west-coast hunters still in bed? Perhaps so. Neither Josh nor Eric have enough experience as hunters or enough experience as Sunday-morning-activators to know, although K8RAT has since suggested that Sunday is usually a good time to be a POTA hunter. A third lesson is that the KXAT3 automatic antenna tuner inside the KX3 can tune a 28½' wire with a 4:1 unun on all bands 10m through 80m—it doesn't do so well on 160m—and that the LDG Z11 ATU working in concert with a 9:1 unun can tune Josh's wire well on all bands including 160m. (However, no information was gleaned as to effectively Josh's wire will radiate on Top Band.) A fourth lesson is that ground-wave propagation will allow a 5w CW signal with compromise field antennas to easily communicate over hilly-terrain distances of several miles on any of the amateur HF bands—where 2m FM failed almost utterly, CW and the HF bands succeeded easily.

Since the completion of this activation, Eric has been working with N0AW at POTA to figure out how to best use the Reverse Beacon Network to generate POTA Spots in the hopes that he can eventually perform easy activations at POTA units without cell-signal. (POTA is already skimming RBN and generating spots on POTA Spots but it seems to not work well at all for WD8RIF.) Eric will post an article on his website once he learns the secrets.