In 2016, the National Park Service (NPS) will celebrate its 100th anniversary, and radio amateurs will be able to help mark the occasion with the ARRL National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) event. The fun begins at 0000 UTC on January 1, 2016.
“As ARRL just celebrated our own Centennial, and Amateur Radio is often enjoyed in the great outdoors, it seemed fitting to devise a program to help NPS celebrate their own 100th birthday,” said ARRL Media and Public Relations Manager Sean Kutzko, KX9X. As he explained, NPOTA will run throughout 2016, with activity promoted and encouraged from each of the more than 430 official NPS administrative units and affiliated areas across the US. This includes all 59 National Parks as well as National Battlefields, Historic Sites, Memorials, Preserves, Reserves, Rivers, Seashores, National Scenic Trails, and other units.
The program will have two participation tracks — Chasers and Activators. Chasers will simply attempt to make contact with operators in as many of the NPS units as possible. Activators will attempt to activate as many of the units as possible. NPOTA participants may serve in both roles. Chaser and Activator totals will be tracked via an online Leader Board based on LoTW data, just as was done during the Centennial QSO Party. (Access the NPOTA Leader Board directly at http://npota.arrl.org.)
Modeled after the Mixed DXCC award, only one contact with any given NPS unit will be required, and no tally will be kept of NPS units based on bands or modes. NPOTA will be administered entirely through Logbook of The World (LoTW). No paper logs or QSLs will be accepted for NPOTA credit. Each NPS unit will be added to LoTW as a “location.”
Three award certificates will be available: Chaser Award and Activator Award certificates will be available to any radio amateur who has at least one confirmed contact with an NPS unit or who activates at least one unit, respectively. A station’s total number of confirmed or activated units will be printed on the certificate. The National Parks Honor Roll certificate will be available for any station that confirms contact with at least 75 percent of the 59 National Parks activated in 2016.
An Activator can earn additional recognition as a “Five-Star Activator.” While the Centennial QSO Party was an internal event for radio amateurs, National Parks on the Air is designed to be a public promotion of Amateur Radio’s capabilities. Various public relations bonuses and activities will be available to Activators, similar to the PR bonus points available to ARRL Field Day stations.
The success of the event and of the awards program rests on radio amateurs’ willingness to operate from NPS units.
“Portable operators, this event is for you!” Kutzko said. “Start thinking about how you would incorporate Amateur Radio into your visit to an NPS unit. Whether you’re camping in Yosemite, driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, or set up in a corner of Andersonville Prison, you will definitely draw a pileup. As long as you are on the property of the NPS unit, you will qualify as being in the unit.”
Kutzko notes that depending on the size of a given operation, participants may need to secure a special-use permit. “This may take some time,” he said. “It’s possible the answer will be ‘no.’ Be mindful of the size and sensitivity of the NPS unit you want to activate, and be realistic about your plans.” NPOTA Activators will need to follow all NPS rules in whatever unit they activate.
In general, the more portable and compact your station is, and the more creative and adaptable your plans are, the greater your chances of success. While there is no formal partnership between NPS and ARRL for this event, the League has been in discussions with the NPS over the past year, and it is aware that increased Amateur Radio activity in their parks is likely during 2016.
“It is your responsibility to be on your best behavior and not interfere with other visitors at NPS units,” Kutzko advised. “Remember, every time you visit an NPS unit for this awards program, your conduct will not only impact the reputation of Amateur Radio throughout the NPS system, but will also directly impact the success of the next amateur who tries to activate that unit. Be nice, be courteous, and be flexible. Demonstrate Amateur Radio in the best light possible.”
The NPOTA will use the official list of NPS Administrative Units and Affiliated Areas as defined and maintained by NPS. Complete details on the National Parks on the Air event are available on the ARRL website.