First POTA activation – Duck Lake State Park

Date : July 22 2021
Park : K-1496 – Duck Lake State Park

After trying my first Summit on the Air (SOTA) activation, I was excited try try doing a Parks on the Air (POTA) activation as well! I was going to be traveling to Michigan and have some free time. Taking a look at the POTA website, it was clear that Duck Lake State Park was going to be the closest park to visit.

Driving into the park, I didn’t have a great sense of where would be good to activate. I knew that the beach area would be VERY busy, and would not have much shade. When you first arrive, there is a large parking lot, but it seemed pretty busy around there as well.

The first decent option looked to be an empty park bench at the boat launch parking. There was low traffic, open space, and an available bench. The biggest problem with this spot was the lack of shade.

View of Duck Lake from the operating station.
View of Duck Lake from the operating station.

I kept going down the road and found that there was a pavilion that could be rented out. Unfortunately, the pavilion was in use, but there was a path that went down toward the lake. there were open benches, lots of space, and little foot traffic. So, setup on a bench in the shade and got started.

My Gear for this adventure :
Radio : Xiegu G90
Audio Interface: DigiRig Mobile
Antenna : Buddistick Pro

Station Setup on the Picnic Table
Station Setup on the Picnic Table
Buddistick Pro
Buddistick Pro

I decided to make this activation with mostly FT8. I had 10 FT8 contacts, followed by 2 P2P SSB contacts. This was hardly an amazing number of contacts, but was more than sufficient to fully “activate” the park! It was largely an experiment for me and a learning experiment.

This was also my first time using the Buddistick Pro. The antenna only barely arrived in time for my trip, so I hadn’t had any time to test it out before flying to Michigan. It performed really well, and was perfect for my situation. I had heard from multiple people that Michigan doesn’t allow you to hang anything from trees, so my normal KM4ACK EFHW wasn’t going to be an option. I needed something self-supporting and this seemed to be a great option. So far, I’m quite happy with the antenna and would easily recommend it.

First VHF Contest and SOTA Activation

In May of 2021, I had started to get reinterested in ham radio. While playing with APRS, I learned about SOTA and realized there was one parcitcally in my backyard! Around the same time, I learned that there was an upcoming VHF contest. Since I didn’t have an HF radio, this seemed like the great combo!

VHF Contest : ARRL June VHF Contest
SOTA Reference : W6/NC-399 (Coyote Peak)
Date: June 13th, 2021

The summit is only a little over 1000ft, making it a seemingly easy hike, or so I thought. I had done some planning, and looking at Google Maps, it estimated it to be 2 miles and ~1hr hike.

Coyote Peak Trail
Trail marker for the Coyote Peak Trail, on the hike up the hill!

Unfortunately, I misread one of the trail markers (not the one shown) and ended up taking a longer route, which was ~3.5 miles and took me 2 hours. It was a pretty hot day and the trail was significantly more steep than I had anticipated. Talking to others that have that have done this hike, it would have been an even more steep hike on the planned trail.

Eventually, I did make it to the top of the trail. Thankfully the tower at the summit is an easy target to track and keep focused on.

Approaching the tower at the summit

Even though I can walk to the trail from my house, I might consider driving to the visitor center, and then hike up from there for my future activations. Based on the other people hiking to the summit, it seemed like a much easier method!

I had never done a VHF contest or SOTA, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect or how to properly prepare. Like most people doing something for the first time, I ended up overthinking and over preparing! My instinct was that my HT antenna wasn’t going to be sufficient to really make any distance. I then recalled that I had a spare mag-mount dual-band antenna that could be used. I also recalled legends of people using a cookie sheet with a mag-mount antenna, when trying to operate from apartments or HOA environments. I went over to my local Dollar Tree store and purchased a pizza cooking sheet. Somehow the round aspect of it seemed a little more appealing than a rectangle!?

Dual-Band Mag-Mount Antenna on the Dollar Store Pizza Cooking Sheet

Although it was a hot and difficult hike to the top, it was amazingly pleasant at the summit. There was a steady breeze, which made audio a little complicated, but made it a great place to sit for an hour.

Overall, I activated the SOTA and participated in a contest. This was a great experience to work on “mic fright”! I’m glad I did it and hope to make it to the top of the summit again. It is so close, I have not excuse for not doing it. I just hope it is a bit easier the next time.

View from the summit of Coyote Peak