Ohio State Parks on the Air
Have you ever looked at contest schedules and thought it seemed like every format had already been tried and that the good ideas had already been used? That if your club wanted to sponsor a new contest, there just wasn't any room for something original?
The board of the Portage County Amateur Radio Service (PCARS) had the chance to ponder those questions recently. We wanted to create a contest that would have particular appeal to hams in the Ohio Section. The contest would have a unique format that had not been tried before yet still be relatively simple to score and have low hurdles for participation. That is, almost anyone could take a shot at it.
What we came up with is a contest that not only met those requirements but combines some of the best elements of Field Day and a state QSO party, provides public demonstrations of in-the-field communication abilities and rewards the ability to make contacts within your own section/state. Even better, it is a template that can easily be adopted in any other state or section or even used for a nationwide event.
Putting Parks on the Air
We call it the "Ohio State Parks on the Air" (POTA) contest. Its primary goals are to have hams operate individually or as club stations from as many of Ohio's 73 state parks as possible and to highlight the beauty and diversity of each of the parks that are spread throughout the state.
The format is straightforward: individuals and clubs operate low or high power portable stations at state parks and attempt to make as many contacts as possible in an 8 hour time frame. They can contact any station anywhere. Other Ohio hams and non-Ohio hams can only contact park stations. All modes on all bands are available and the scoring is the same for each contact no matter the mode or band.
The magic is in the multiplier: the number of Ohio State Parks you work. Unlike a state QSO party, this puts a particular premium (even for all of the Ohio stations) on working other stations in the state. As a result, all of the park stations will have to seriously consider the propagation characteristics of their antenna(s), in particular using Near Vertical Incidence Skywave (NVIS) antennas. Plus, the VHF aficionados have the chance to compete in a contest that puts HF and VHF on an equal footing.
We tried to ensure that the date selected would not interfere with other events yet still be at a practical time of the year, allowing for Ohio's weather and times of peak park attendance. The first Saturday after Labor Day (September 6 in 2008) was chosen because the weather will still be good while park use should be down a bit. Participants are encouraged to make a weekend of it if they would like. Many of Ohio's parks have excellent camping facilities while others have beautiful contemporary resort facilities that may be particularly appealing to the non-ham spouse. You know, "Honey, I planned a great weekend for us and I will only be on the air for 8 hours."
Keep the Park in the Loop
As soon as we began discussing the event we also made sure that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state agency responsible for managing the parks, was fully informed about our plans. It took some e-mails and phone calls to satisfy them that the radio operations would not put any undue demand on park resources and to satisfy their curiosity about what we would be doing.
Hopefully, after the first year of the event, they will also recognize what a great way it is to publicize the excellence of Ohio's state parks and to generate some additional off-season park activity.
Here's hoping that clubs in other states or ARRL sections adopt the contest format. Who knows -- maybe there is an organization (ARRL?) that would be willing to undertake sponsoring a National Parks on the Air contest?
Want to Join In?
More information about the Ohio State POTA can be found at the PCARS Web site, including contest rules, FAQ's, log sheets and entry submission forms. Awards will be given to the top five entries for individual and club stations operating from the parks in both the high and low power categories, and for the top five individual Ohio and non-Ohio stations. There is a special award for the club that activates stations at the greatest number of state parks. Additional prizes may also be awarded.
For more information about Ohio's state parks check out their Web site.
Here's hoping that we catch you on the air on Saturday, September 6! And for you Ohio hams, start checking out the state parks in your area and make plans to join us for this inaugural event.
All photos courtesy Jim Aylward, KC8PD.
Jim Aylward, KC8PD, has been a ham since 2001 and holds an Amateur Extra class license. He is vice president and PIO of PCARS and the Radio Officer for Portage County Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Service (RACES). He serves as Chief Magistrate for the Portage County Juvenile and Probate Courts.
Jim Aylward, KC8PD, Public Information Officer, PCARS