POTA Activation #22 - A 3-fer at Leesylvania State Park, Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT, and Star Spangled Banner NHT (VA) (7/17/2022)

Driving down to Leesylvania State Park and being turned away due to the park being closed for being at capacity was frustrating. I was really looking forward to activating the park and scouting out locations for multiple park activations. The next day it became clear that I could have some time to give it another try, so I left before Noon, picked up a sub from Subway for a lunch in the park, put it in my new electric cooler, and decided to give it another try. If it hit another roadblock I would continue South to reactivate Prince William Forest Park. It was a reasonably hot and humid day, but in the shade it was pleasant enough. I brought a small ocean of seltzer to provide refreshment in my cooler, so I planned on spending a good chunk of time of the park, if I could get in.

As I got to the entrance of the park the sign that had flashed at me the previous day was dark, and I was able to continue to the entrance station, show my state parks pass, and enter. I was in! I asked the ranger for a map and scrutinized the road system in the park and the parking lots. It was becoming clear that the 4-fer I had hoped for would require a significant hike-in. Also, the areas by the water and the trail didn't have a lot of area to set up my station, so I decided to go for the 3-fer instead. I knew about the main parking area by the boat launch, but just before that I saw a turn-off to a car-top canoe launch and group campground. First I went by the group campground, but it wasn't clear if it would be okay to operate there, and anyway, it wasn't close enough to the water to get the other two parks. So I went to the canoe launch and parked at the last parking spot and got out to explore.

Immediately I saw an empty campground across from the canoe launch. I would later discover that the campsites were for campers who arrived by canoe. The reason they were empty was because in order to camp there, you have to canoe in from somewhere else. You can't do an out and back from the state park. There aren't a lot of options on that front. Later, I would talk to a ranger and he said he had only seen them occupied once. There is a part of me that would like to give it a go sometime -- I just would need to figure out a place to start from.

Between the canoe launch and the campground was a picnic table that had a nice bit of shade and some good trees for getting an antenna in the air. I quickly got all my gear out and set up my station. The bands seemed to be in better shape than the day before and I was hearing a lot of stations. I decided I wanted to see how many bands I could get on the air as an impromptu challenge. At 1700Z I was off, starting out on 20m CW. At first it was a bit of a slow-burn, but in time the rate picked up. Contacts came in from Michigan, Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas. After a bit of a lull, I decided to go onto the second band of the day: 40m. The contacts started rolling in from Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Indiana. After another lull it was off to 30m to make contacts with Tennessee, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Missouri, and Illinois. After another lull, I switched to the 17m band and made contact with Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, and Texas.

Next it was up to the 15m band where I had contacts with Kansas, Texas, Mississippi, California (!), and Arizona -- amazing. That California contact was in the Los Angeles area, so truly a coast-to-coast affair. I gave 12m a try, but had no luck. Then I went to 10m, and my CW calls went unanswered. Curious if the band was just dead I tuned to the FT8 frequency and heard signals, so I decided to hook up the laptop and give it a go. I heard a few stations from South America, and after several attempts I was able to make a contact with a station in Venezuela! Another band in the log. I tried FT8 on 12, but still no luck, so I was thinking what other bands could I do?

Looking on the spots, I saw a station on CW on 60m. Even though my end-fed half wave is 40-10, I decided to see if my tuner could tune up on one of the 60m channels. Sure enough, it could. I could not hear that station calling CQ, but I hopped to another channel on 60 and started calling CQ myself. Pretty quickly I got a contact with a station in Ohio. Another band in the logs. Quickly I started to hear multiple other stations calling me, but I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. A truck had pulled up by my operating location and a park ranger was walking out, waving at me. I had to leave those stations hanging (sorry if you were one of them) and talk to the ranger.

He introduced himself and said he remembered me from the day before. When we had been turned away I had mentioned our intent to operate a special event, and the park manager who he had been with mentioned that if we had a special use permit, we would have been let in, even if the park was closed. The ranger asked me if I had acquired the special use permit, and what the process was like. I told him that I had interpreted what the park manager had said was optional and a way to ensure access, not a requirement for being there. I explained what I was doing and showed him the setup. He seemed genuinely interested and he told me that as far as he was concerned what I was doing was fine and that I was likely the "least problematic person in the park today". We talked about the park, and I found out that the park regularly closes on weekends due to capacity issues, it wasn't a one-off. In fact, I was lucky to get in when I did as it is often full by the time I entered.

Evidently, there was a person who was there when the gates opened in the morning (officially at 6, but in practice at 5) who had arrived at midnight and slept in his car to be the first one in the park. He said he was going to report back to the park manager what we had discussed, but that he didn't see there being any problems. I told him I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing and was happy to change what I was doing if there were any issues. He never came back, so everything must have been all good. The ranger was a really nice guy and it was interesting learning more about the park and what it has to offer.

I decided to re-spot on 60m and see what else I could work and made contact with Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina. Having done a full run of the bands, I decided to switch over to SSB on 40m to see what I could do and made contact with Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Indiana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ohio, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maryland, Michigan, Connecticut, Ontario (Canada), and Georgia. Quite the run. Since the band was working so well, I decided to give CW another go on 40m and worked Connecticut, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio, and Florida.

Next I gave a try to 20m, and got a contact with Texas. Then I gave 30m a go and contacted Illinois. Finally, I went back to 40m CW and had one last run contacting Kentucky, Wisconsin, Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Ohio, West Virginia, and finally North Carolina. I would have kept going ... but a storm was moving in and the previously still air became a stormy blast of air that quickly dropped in temperature as dark clouds moved toward me. With those huge wind gusts I worked to disconnect my radio and get the electronics protected and then got the antenna down as fast as I could and drove over the car so I could quickly load everything. I lucked out -- there were a few rain drops visible on the car windshield, but while in the park the soaking rains never came. I got everything loaded, made sure to leave the area cleaner than I found it, and then drove off from my beautiful operating site. I did a loop of the park to explore a bit before heading home. I definitely want to come back and hike some of the trails, and I would love to operate from the same location again. It was wonderful

This was by far my most successful activation to date. In total I made 108 contacts on 7 bands (60m, 40m, 30m, 20m, 17m, 15m, 10m) in 3 countries and 2 continents with 69 on CW, 38 on SSB, and 1 on FT8. Since it was a 3-fer those count for 324 contacts, 207 CW, and 3 FT8. I also made quite a few Park to Park contacts on this outing, including one with a 2-fer that counted for 6 contacts in one QSO. In all, I was on the air for 5 hours and 23 minutes and had a whole lot of fun.

Activation QSO Map: Red Pins = SSB, Green Pins = CW, Blue Pins = FT8 / Black Lines = 60m, Green Lines = 40m, Orange Lines = 30m, Blue Lines = 20m, Purple Lines = 17m, Cyan Lines = 15m, Yellow Lines = 10m

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
  • Bioenno 12V 6Ah LiFePO4 Battery
  • Sony Headphones
  • Dell XPS 13 Laptop
  • Rite in the Rain Notebook
  • Zebra DelGuard Mechanical Pencil
  • Jackery Explorer 500
  • Hcalory 50L Portable Fridge/Freezer