POTA Activation #13 - Four Parks on CW over Two Days with a Late Shift - George Washington Memorial Parkway, Potomac Heritage NST, Star Spangled Banner NST, and Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT (VA) (6/16/2022-6/17/2022)

Life has been busy of late and it had been a few weeks since I was able to get out into the field and activate a park. My schedule on the weekends has been completely filled, so when my buddy Gersohn mentioned doing an activation together, I had to get creative. Ever since my Fairy Stone State Park activation, I wanted to get in another Late Shift. I also have been spending some time learning about the park boundaries in my area and exploring the possibilities when it comes to multiple activations. I've gotten more familiar with the National Park Service web site and the mapping features therein. Through that exploration I've come to realize that there are a lot of overlapping and adjacent parks in the DC metropolitan area. Some of these overlaps are difficult to access, but I found a few places that have 4 parks in one location that don't involve climbing through forests of poison ivy.

How is this possible? Well, in addition to the traditional idea we all have of a park with specific boundaries, the NPS also designates several National Historic Trails and National Scenic Trails. Some of these are on land, while others are on the water. Some are on both. The Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail is a water-based trail that covers much of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including much of the Potomac River. Since operating on a trail is generally bad form (you don't want to block a trail with your gear ... and operating on the water can be a challenge) you're allowed to claim a trail as long as you're within 100 feet of it. So for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT, if you're within 100 feet of the Potomac where it goes, you're able to claim it. The Star Spangled Banner National Scenic Trail has portions that are on roads and others that are on waterways. North of Alexandria City it largely follows the George Washington Memorial Parkway and South of Alexandria it follows the Potomac River for a while. Finally, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail has many disjoint sections on the map. There are proper trails, as well as trail spurs that are disconnected.

I found a couple locations where all of these parks coincided within the rules of POTA and got excited for the possibilities. The last thing I had to do was look at operating hours, if I wanted to do a late shift. Many of the parks are closed at dusk, which isn't great for a late shift, even as we approach the longest days of the year. I discovered that the parking lot by the Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove in DC was open until 10 PM and was walking distance to the spot on the other side of the humpback bridge where the 3 trails and the George Washington Memorial Parkway overlapped.

We had a plan. After work we could get to the spot around 6-6:30, get our activation for day 1, keep operating past 8:00 for day 2 (the next Zulu day) and get a second activation and a late shift. With 4 parks in two "days", that's 8 activations in about 3 hours in the field. Gersohn and I were excited and got our gear together ready to hit the park. Then this happened:

The weather situation was not looking good. That mass of red, orange, and lightning bolts was hurtling toward our operating position right as we were about to depart. We decided to go anyway and make a last minute call when we got to the LBJ Memorial Grove parking lot. If the weather would render our activation unsafe we could go into the marina area and get a bite to eat while we waited out the maelstrom. Thankfully, the weather gods were with us and the bad weather went just South of where we were to operate. No rain, and the lightning was safely to our South. The activation was a go.

Gersohn had a brand new cart to help bring my camp table and some of our bulkier gear. Being at a 4 park nexus meant we had no picnic tables at our disposal. We had to pack it all in and then pack it all out. Once we found a flat spot within 100 feet of the water and 100 feet of the roadway we set up our table and radios and then got our antennas in the air. I used my arborist throw-line and Gersohn use an air cannon he had built specifically for the purpose. Traffic had pushed us closer to the end of the Zulu day than I had hoped, so I got my station up as quickly as I could, plugged in my CW paddles, tuned to 7.050 MHz and started calling CQ POTA.

I didn't have to wait long. One after another they came, sometimes piling up. I didn't really get any breaks for about an hour and a half, and even then it was only long enough to take a sip of my water and catch my breath. So much fun. My calls were answered from New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, New Hampshire, Delaware, Kentucky, Florida, Pennsylvania, Indiana, New York, Illinois, Oklahoma, Ontario (Canada), Kansas, South Carolina, Missouri, Tennessee, Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, and Puerto Rico. In all, 68 contacts, a new record for me (although, it was technically split over two activations ...). The signal reports I was getting were fantastic, mostly 559-599 with a few fringe reports coming in as well. It never ceases to amaze me what's possible with 10 Watts and a bit of wire. Although the prior activation saw my first time having enough CW contacts to make a valid activation, it was mixed-mode. This activation was entirely in CW. My goal of having a complete activation with nothing but CW was met and then some. I really felt myself get into a groove with it and it was a lot of fun. Multiplying the 68 contacts over 4 parks gave 272 contacts! I was so busy I never had a break to change bands. While I had to throw in a few question marks here and there, everything went smoothly and I think I can safely say I'm a CW operator now.

The location was not one to disappoint either. It was just North of the Mount Vernon Trail spur to the 14th Street Bridge into Washington, DC. I had biked by it hundreds of times, but had never pulled off into the grass at the spot before. The view from our table was a stunning panorama of DC's monumental core. Right in the middle was the George Washington Memorial standing 555 feet 5.5 inches tall surrounded by the Jefferson, Lincoln, and FDR Memorials. We could see the Kennedy Center off to the North and the lights of the city shimmering on the Potomac. All the while we could watch the traffic on the 14th Street Bridge. As the day became night we were also treated to a dazzling light show as hundreds of fireflies lit up the small grove of trees ahead of us on this beautiful point into the Potomac. As I got more comfortable in my copy of the code I leaned back to soak it all in and watch the beauty happening right in front of me. Although I had seen this spot hundreds of times on bike commutes, it took an activation for me to truly experience it. Simply stunning.

A little bit after 9 PM, both activations made, I turned off my rig and started to pack up my gear under the light of my headlamp. I've been getting into a good rhythm putting up and taking down my gear. The replacement insulator I designed and 3D printed in PETG for my MFJ 1984 MP (the supplied one broke) did a great job and was very easy to deploy. I even embossed my call in it for fun. After getting everything into our bags and loading up Gersohn's cart, we wheeled everything back to my car and were able to head out right around the closing time of Columbia Island. Another 8 activations in the book from POTA's perspective, and a whole lot of fun. Since we were in a bit of a hurry to get there, we decided to head over to Bob and Edith's diner over in Huntington for a late dinner. We had a great meal and even better conversation before calling it a night. The QSO map below shows just how well CW can do on 10 W ... pins everywhere! Such a great time.

Gear used in this activation
  • Icom IC-705
  • MFJ 1984 MP End-Fed Half Wave Antenna
  • LDG Z100 Plus
  • CW Morse Pocket Double Paddle Morse Code Key with Magnets
  • CW Morse Steel Base for Pocket Paddles
  • RigExpert Stick Pro Antenna Analyzer
  • Icom LC-192
  • Zebralight H600Fc Mk IV Headlamp
  • Bioenno 12V 6Ah LiFePO4 Battery
  • Sony Headphones
  • Dell XPS 13 Laptop
  • Camp Chef Mesa Folding Aluminum Table
  • Rite in the Rain Notebook
  • Zebra DelGuard Mechanical Pencil