Well, my first September VHF Contest could simply be described as rough. Unlike my other reports, I’ll cut to the chase up front and say I only made six contacts during the weekend with a claimed scored of 42. While this probably sums up my frustration, there is a lot of backstory to how things went which I think is worth diving into.
My original plan was to spend Saturday in EN20 given its relatively needed status (at least compared to other nearby grids) for FFMA ops. I selected the Nodaway Valley Conservation Area since it was 1) fairly close to my QTH in Kansas City, 2) a public place that I believed I’d have no hassle utilizing, and 3) was not in a river basin like many of the other public parks/areas nearby. I sent out a post on the FFMA groups.io advertising this operation and got some good feedback from other hams needing the grid, so I was really excited to make this work out.
I was set to arrive before 1pm so I could be on the air Saturday right at contest start, but rain and lightning delayed my plans. After finding my chosen parking lot in the large conservation area and letting the lightning pass, I sat for nearly an hour before trying to erect my mast and antennas between downpours. I was the only person in the gravel lot and was totally self contained in the car other than the drive-on mast I’ve used in previous VHF contests. I got the antennas up in the rain, but I was drenched and already feeling a bit defeated. It didn’t help that the bands weren’t great. I only heard a couple stations on FT8 and had worked on by the time I saw a pickup truck roll up behind me.
After I jumped out to rotate the mast, I noticed it was a law enforcement vehicle although it a had a very subdued marking on it so I couldn’t tell the agency. Given that the Missouri Conservation Areas are run by the Department of Conservation, I have to assume it was someone associated with them. In any case, he pops out and asks what I’m doing. After I explain that it’s ham radio and the desirable nature of the location, I get the “well we don’t allow that here” in a strangely friendly tone. He told me this area was only allowed to be used for hunting. He also asked if I drove in from Kansas in a way that seemed like that was a factor in the decision. A minute or two into things, a second truck came up behind him, but I never saw that officer. I was told to take things down before also asking for my ID to run through the system (seriously?). He suggested I go to a nearby unused quarry instead (which seemed weird given that it was probably private property). Both officers left as I finished taking down my mast.
This was incredibly frustrating. For one, I drove nearly two hours for this, set up in the pouring rain, tore down in the pouring rain (getting my radio and computer more wet than I ever wanted to), and had no where else to really go. I choose public parks and lands to avoid conflicts with private property owners, so the quarry wasn’t compelling to me. There was a nearby National Wildlife Refuge and Missouri State Park but after all I’d been through didn’t seem worth it.
In hindsight, I should have asked more questions to the officer. The brochure for the conservation area says this area can be used for:
• Hunting, nature study, wildlife viewing, nature photography and frogging
• Fishing in the Nodaway River and 1/2 acre pond.
• Camping in designated areas only.
• Hiking. No designated trails exist on the area.
Ham radio obviously isn’t on that list, but they certainly allow more than hunting! In any event, I wasn’t bothering anyone (the parking lot was empty) nor disturbing the grounds, and I consider my activities in line with the approved public uses of the property. Looking on the Parks on the Air (POTA) site for K-5709, this area has been activated three previous times as well. Unfortunately, my takeaway is that I will avoid Missouri’s Conservation Areas for ham radio purposes; it just doesn’t seem worth it. I will point out that Kansas’ State Parks and city and county public parks/lakes have been excellent for ham radio during my last four years in the area. Occasionally I’ll get questioned what I am doing by locals or even law enforcement (in a couple cases) but logic and reason prevail when they see I’m being a respectful user of the public resource.
Anyway, I headed back to KC and rode out the rain for the evening. I headed to Shawnee Mission Park in EM28 (my favorite local spot to get on the air) in the late morning, but the bands were in poor shape. After a few hours and five more contacts, I decided to pack it up and go home. I tend to get really invested in these types of operations and really need to remind myself that it’s supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun, it’s time to take a break.
In some ways, this is encouraging me to reevaluate how I rove. While I love my Max-Gain Systems Mast, 6m Par Electronics Moxon, and 2m 5 element Diamond Yagi, the set up and tear down is tough for roving. For next year’s VHF contests, I might try out something different which allows me to get on the air with much less or no set up at each spot. This would minimize the impact of these situations and would let me recover operations much faster as well as get more grids on the air for a given trip. Let’s see!