Recently, I gave a presentation to the ARROW radio club in Ann Arbor, MI on the topic of “Having Fun With VHF”. I’ve given this talk several times now, highlighting some of the topics in my book, VHF, Summits and More: Having Fun With Ham Radio. When I discussed my Summits On The Air (SOTA) activities, Thom/W8TAM mentioned that Parks On The Air (POTA) was probably a better fit for Michigan. (There are SOTA summits in Michigan but most of them are in the upper peninsula or the northern part of the lower peninsula.) This got me thinking about POTA and I followed up with Thom via email a few days later to get a bit more information.
Being a fan of the US National Parks, I had done a few activations during the ARRL National Parks On The Air event in 2016. (Holy decibels, was that really 4 years ago?) The POTA program is similar but is an ongoing program, kind of like SOTA.
What’s A Park?
I am not sure of the specific criteria for parks to be included in POTA, but it seems to be pretty much National Parks (including National Forests) and State Parks. The POTA website talks about these typical categories of POTA stations: backpack, picnic table, campground and Field Day. Backpack looks very much like a typical SOTA activation, a small portable station carried by humans (or maybe goats) to the activation site. Picnic Table is a little bit different, with more gear and less hiking. Campground and Field Day take advantage of operating close to or inside a vehicle.
I see quite a bit of overlap with other activities that I like: SOTA, hiking, camping, parks and travel.
To get a handle on local opportunities, I looked at the 85 POTA parks listed for Colorado. (Compare this to over 1805 SOTA summits in the state.) These are National Parks, National Monuments, National Wildlife Refuges, National Recreation Areas, National Grasslands, National Scenic Trails, National Historic Trails, National Forests, and Colorado State Parks. In short, POTA includes the National Park System, National Forests, and State Parks. Cool!
We see a similar picture in Kansas, which has zero SOTA summits. (Sorry, it’s just too flat.)
SOTA activation opportunities are obviously skewed toward mountainous areas. Islands On The Air (IOTA) is generally near large bodies of water. However, POTA is available everywhere. Americans like parks and we have lots of them.
I have been heavy into SOTA, so that’s the perspective I have when checking out POTA. POTA requires 10 QSOs to obtain points for an activation, while SOTA requires only four. SOTA activations must not be in, or in the close vicinity of a motor vehicle, cannot use a permanent electrical power source, nor use a fossil fuel generator. Also, no part of the station may be connected in any way
with the motor vehicle. All equipment must be operated from portable power source (batteries, solar cells, etc). The POTA rules don’t have these restrictions.
The SOTA points system and logging database are pretty much on the honor system. Send in a log (Activator or Chaser) and you’ll get credit for the points you claim. POTA only collects logs from the Activators. So if you are a Chaser (Hunter, in POTA terminology), you don’t submit a log and your points are dependent on the Activator getting a log submitted. POTA log submission is via email and may take up to two weeks to get processed, while SOTA is instantaneous.
I have not quite figured out how I will participate in POTA. For starters, it can be a nice overlap with SOTA. Most of the SOTA summits we activate are on National Forest land, so they also count as POTA activations. Lately, Joyce/K0JJW and I have been RV camping in state parks, so that sets us up for an easy POTA activation. We are also working on visiting all of the US National Parks. POTA probably isn’t a great match for VHF operating, unless it has some Height Above Average Terrain.
I can appreciate the accessibility of the POTA program. It does not require a lot of physical ability to do an activation. The flexible rules allow hams to set up a station in a variety of ways and it seems most hams have a park nearby they can activate.
73 Bob K0NR