The Activation Log is a new series that reports on my Parks on the Air (POTA) activations. These are write-ups that share additional content, thoughts, and images of portable operations that may or may not make it into a video.

Ackely State Wildlife Area, POTA K-4266 is another park located not far from my home town of Wausau, WI. A short, 25 minute, drive gets me to a parking area on the edge of Langlade County in northeast Wisconsin. A little backstory on Ackley: the Wildlife Area is named after the township of Ackley in the southwest corner of the county. At the turn of the 20th century, a rail spur originated just south of here, went north towards Gleason, and eventually connected to a main rail line at Tomahawk. But the purpose of this line wasn’t passenger travel, but instead moving logs out of the forests and to the sawmills that operated along the Wisconsin River in Wausau. The line was owned by the Barker-Stewart lumber company and the products fed their mills on Barker-Stewart Island in Wausau. i’ve got a video that digs deeper into that fascinating story.

The rail line is long gone, pulled out in the early 1930’s, but the corridor still remains and its path is still evident and is part of Ackley’s trail system. Nowadays it serves as a snowmobile trail in the winter months, connecting far flung rural taverns in northern Wisconsin.

Setup at Ackley

This activation was on Friday, July 1st, 2023 from 17:00 – 20:00 UTC

For this activation I ran the vertical antenna in a 1/4 wave configuration with the window screen ground plane. Hanging a wire antenna is permissible in most wildlife areas, but the trees lining the parking area are scrubby and not very suitable for a wire antenna. Nor did I want to go deep in the brush and get covered with ticks in order to put the wire up. So vertical antenna it is.

I’ve been using the window screen ground plane with my vertical antenna every since I published that video on its use. Frankly, after more than a dozen Parks on the Air activations in a wide variety of locations and band conditions, I really can’t tell the difference between using it or the ground radials. The screen’s capacitive coupling sure makes adjusting the antenna easier and I really like the smaller footprint that it offers. I know there are a few scoff at this method as ‘snake oil’ or ‘the latest trend’ but I belive that it is a viable replacement to a more traditional ground network. Instead of doubting its effectiveness, I recommend you first give it a try yourself.


But about the activation. Phone service is sketchy in Ackley, you can get a whisper of a signal if you stand in the part of the parking area closest to the road, but move a few feet away and it dies completely. The signal is worse in the summer months when the leafed out trees further deaden the signal. So setting up at the spot can be a challenge for the activator. Fortunately, when I got on the air on 20 meters, KC3IEU heard my call, we had a short conversation, and I was soon spotted.

I had a rousing activation on the 20 meter band, racking up 76 contacts in about one hour. Band conditions were decent on 20 meters, some fading but not the worst that I’ve experienced on that band this summer. After my run of phone contacts started to peter out, I switched over to FT8 for some digital operation on the 20 meter band. There I managed 49 contacts in an hour and 22 minutes. Digital is much slower and I can usually sustain a rate for phone contacts that is about double the digital rate. Still the more leisurely pace of digital is nice, so its a good break. Since I was already spotted on 20 meter phone, the Reverse Beacon Network (RBN) continued to spot me on FT8 when I switched over.

Ackley Wildlife Area K-4266 20 meter phone contacts

Ackley Wildlife Area 20 meter FT8 contacts

I closed the activation down at about quarter to four local time and had a nice leisurely drive back home to Wausau.

If you plan on going

Ackley State Wildlife Area
Hwy 64 between Merrill and Antigo, WI

There are two parking areas, both on Hwy 64. I prefer the west one, closer to the Langlade/Lincoln county line.