POTA Activation #53: A 3 Park 2 Mode Activation with My Daughter and Bald Eagles at Widewater State Park, Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT, and Star-Spangled Banner NHT (2/20/2023) (VA)

On Presidents Day my daughter had off from school, so she and I decided to visit a new park and do some hiking and exploring. With all my study of the maps for Parks on the Air, I had found some new-to-me parks that were on a short-list for a visit. One that I had been eyeing for a while was Widewater State Park near Stafford, Virginia. The park is on a peninsula at the confluence of the Potomac River and Aquia creek. The park is on the smaller side, with some private property interspersed within and was a relatively recent park addition to the Virginia State Parks. Getting there from Interstate 95 took a bit of winding through some back roads, but when we got there we put on our State Parks pass and went into the visitors center.

Inside the beautiful and brand new facility were a series of exhibits and a gift shop, as well as a glass case with a beautiful snake. My daughter was drawn to take a look and the rangers took the snake out of its glass case and allowed her to hold it briefly. Caitlin really enjoyed that and the rangers answered her questions and gave us some information about some of the best places to visit while in the park.

We were told that the Holly Marsh Trail would be a good route to take as it ended on the banks of the Potomac River and was home to numerous Bald Eagles. So we set out on the trail, going along the banks of Long Pond, crossing over Brent Point Road, and then tracing the waterline of Holly Marsh.

The trail was an easy out-and-back hike, just shy of a mile with gentle changes in elevation down by the water. As we made our way along, we heard the cries of many species of birds and saw a few gliding over the water. When we made our way around the mouth of the marsh where it opened into the Potomac, we were greeted by a rather large fish carcass, still mostly intact. This was one of our first indicators that there were plenty of eagles in the area.

When we made it to the banks of the Potomac, we saw what must have been at least a dozen eagles, some young and still having their youthful brown plumage, and others more adult, with their striking white heads. Unfortunately, the only camera I had with me for the day was my cell phone, so pardon the zoomed out image below. As we were taking the path down to a canoe launch, we saw another fish being dropped into the water with a thunderous splash by an eagle just 15 feet away from us in the Potomac. Lunch, evidently, had been served.

After watching the eagles playing in the air and looking majestic in the aeries, we took a look at the picnic area and playground that was there. This would be a great place for an activation. Being on the banks of the Potomac, this was a 3-fer, with Widewater State Park being joined by Captain John Smith Chesapeake NHT and the Star-Spangled Banner NHT. Caitlin could play on the playground and I could play radio for a quick activation. With a plan made, we hiked back to our car, retracing our steps, and enjoying the Winter scenery and pleasant weather.

Once back to the starting point, we grabbed a couple ice creams from the visitor center and Caitlin played at the playground near the center, making a new friend along the way. After some play time, we hopped into the car and drove to the picnic area we had hiked to just minutes before. I asked Caitlin if she'd like to do some sideband with me, but the playground beckoned, so I decided to get started with some CW. I decided to start on 20m, to ensure that I could make the 10 needed in case Caitlin got bored and wanted to move on. It didn't take long to get responses once I was spotted, and I got calls from New Jersey, Michigan, and from frequent hunter Dan, WD4DAN in Georgia within the first minute on the air. An auspicious start. Then I got a call from Ontario (Canada) followed by a call from Alaska and NL7V! It had that warble that you sometimes hear from DX, perhaps some auroral distortion, but I heard him clearly and he also gave me a solid signal report. Great to get Paul in the logs again.

Next up I heard from New York, Wisconsin, Ontario (Canada), South Carolina, Maryland, New York, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, Maine, Missouri, Massachusetts, Illinois, then frequent hunter KJ7DT in Idaho, then Montana, Virginia, Georgia, New York, Illinois, Arkansas, South Carolina, Michigan, Florida, and North Carolina. Then I was surprised with one of the most dit-laden DX calls I have ever heard ... EI5JL from Ireland. In one go I had reached from North Pole, Alaska to Dublin, Ireland! What fun. I got 31 contacts on CW in 39 minutes.

My daughter had had her fill of time on the playground and came back and asked if she could take me up on the offer to allow her to operate sideband under my call sign. I was delighted to hear this, and I quickly wrote out the script she would need to follow on-the-air. We found a clear patch of frequency on 20m, got spotted, and she started calling CQ. After a few calls, she got a response from Tennessee. As usual the POTA hunters were kind and patient and Caitlin did a great job on the air. I handled logging duties for her and passed along the signal reports for her to give. Next up was a pair of stations in Michigan, Massachusetts, and Ontario, Canada. Caitlin was starting to get quite the pile-up! She even asked me the best question of the day "Why are so many people talking at once?". I had to smile and I was proud of her keeping her cool in the pile-up.

I logged the calls that I could hear so she could read them back, or would give her partials I heard out of the pile-up so she could ask for repeats. She was a real pro and even said "This is fun, I want to get my license". Music to my ears. We got another pair of calls from Tennessee, another from Michigan, Arkansas, Georgia, and Indiana. Finally we heard another young voice who asked Caitlin how old she was and then told her he was 14 and that she was doing a great job. All-in-all she got 12 contacts on SSB in 9 minutes and decided it was time to head home.

Lots of fun and a great day out with my daughter. I can't wait to do it again soon.

International Activation QSO Map: Green Pins = CW, Red Pins = SSB / Blue Lines = 20m

Domestic Activation QSO Map: Green Pins = CW, Red Pins = SSB / Blue Lines = 20m

Gear used in this activation
  • Yaesu FT-891
  • Yaesu ATAS 120A Antenna
  • CW Morse SP4 POTA/SOTA Mini Morse Code Magnetic Paddle (N0SA Designed)
  • 2006 Honda Accord EX V6
  • Samsung Galaxy S10+
  • HAMRS Logging App