There may have been a few less SFTARC members than normal at Perkins for the Saturday breakfast on April 13.
On that morning, six Santa Fe Trail Amateur Radio Club (SFTARC) operators were on their way to the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve near Strong City, Kansas. This placed our team in the Flint Hills, a series of rolling hills used primarily as pasture, about 100 miles SW of Olathe.
For four and a half hours we wrestled with poor propagation conditions to activate the Tallgrass for Parks-on-the-Air (POTA). Our three HF stations were set up inside a three-story limestone barn located on a section of the 10,000-plus acre Tallgrass preserve that is operated by the National Park Service.
A brisk NE wind and temperatures in the mid-40s to mid-50s kept the operators inside the barn. Being unheated, the barn was still cool but provided at least some relief from the wind. Two 100W stations operated on 40m and 20m SSB while a 10W station worked 30m CW with a straight key. Two vertical antennas and a dipole let the team reach out across North America using Icom rigs: IC-7200, IC-7300 and IC-703 on the three bands respectively. The club's new IC-7300 performed very well for us. A park rule that prohibits driving any stakes into the ground somewhat complicated the supporting of antennas; however, hams are generally clever when it comes to improvising antenna supports and we were able to work around the restriction. Using the SFTARC’s call sign of KS0KS and using N3FJP’s logging software, 64 contacts were logged. During each QSO the operators noted that they were operating from K-3673, the POTA-assigned designator for the Tallgrass.
Our POTA event was coordinated with the NPS rangers well over a month before the actual date of operation. A press release provided by the club to the park service resulted in the public being aware of the POTA operation through the park’s release to the local media as well as being published on the NPS website. Throughout the planning of the event, the NPS was most cooperative—even enthusiastic. That enthusiasm continued on the day of the operation. Our presence benefits the NPS not only by calling awareness to the Tallgrass Preserve but also by serving as an “exhibit” that visitors can interact with. Another positive point is that the park gets to count our time as volunteer hours, which is of benefit to the park’s bookkeeping.
Being the Tallgrass was already on the POTA list of registered parks, it simplified the “paperwork” a bit in planning the event. Prior to the operation, Joe, KR0UT, registered the SFTARC with the POTA organization and posted operating times and target operating frequencies on the POTA site. Operators included Jim, AC0OW; Tom, WA2IVD; Joe, KR0UT; Bob, KC0TZX, Del, K0DDS; and Jim, K0NK.
A few of the park visitors that day were hams, but most visitors were generally unfamiliar with ham radio--yet many of them seemed fascinated by our operation. SFTARC members came equipped with the standard ARRL fliers designed to introduce non-hams to ham radio. Other useful tools when explaining ham radio to visitors were some sketches that illustrated the concepts of VHF propagation, HF propagation and Morse code communications. A reporter from the local newspaper also showed up and interviewed us for an article in the local county newspapers.
This was our fourth year of operating from the Tallgrass; previous operations had been associated with the NPS’ Junior Ranger Day event where we operated as a Special Event Station. However, this year the Tallgrass did not participate in the Junior Ranger event so we became a POTA station. Numerous operators we contacted thanked us for activating the Tallgrass Preserve and adding POTA K-3673 to their logbook. A couple of days after the event we received a very nice thank-you email from one of the park rangers. It is safe to say that we are already looking forward to next year’s operation.