January 13, 2024: To most people, Hatley Wisconsin is blip on Highway 29 in eastern Marathon County. Driving past at 65 mph, you probably notice the gas station, the Dollar General, and maybe the large Catholic church. This little village of about 500 people is more of bedroom community for the larger Wausau metro area. There was a veneer factory that is long gone and the rail line that established the village in the late 19th century was converted to a state trail about a 100 years later. And this connection is what brings me to Hatley for a Parks on the Air activation of the entity, K-9806 Mountain-Bay State Trail.
The Mountain-Bay runs the entire length of the community, but there is one particular spot that I prefer to operate from, The parking area of the Hatley public library. This parking lot is the local trailhead and it is also the crossing point of the Ice Age National Scenic Trail K-4238. Setting up here gives me a twofer: activating two Parks on the Air entities at one time. I also like this spot as it is a short, 20 minute drive from my home.
I normally don’t say a whole lot about the weather in my activations, but this time it’s significant. We had just come off of a major winter storm. The southern and eastern part of the state received up to a foot or more of snow, while the northern tier fared much better. In Wausau we got just under five inches. But the snow is only part of it. On the tail end of the storm were blustery winds and frigid temperatures. We’ve been lucky for most of the winter, experiencing above normal temperatures, but this storm ushered in a deep freeze with air temps below zero Fahrenheit and wind chills -20 and colder. Fortunately on Saturday, when I did the activation, the temperature was still around 19, but it wouldn’t stay like that for long.
After getting the driveway and sidewalk cleared, and the car scraped off, I drove east on some marginally clear county roads until I got to Hatley to activate the Mountain-Bay State Trail.
For this activation, I went back to my old standby antenna, the 1/4 wave vertical. Looking at the POTA spots page, I noticed that there was a fair amount of activity on the 15 meter band. The solar forecast also showed favorable conditions for the upper bands. I didn’t feel like dealing with the hoards of operators that comes with a 20 meter activation, so I set the antenna up for 15 meters.
With my vertical, I have three choices for the ground network: radial wires (I use 8 16 foot radials), a 36×84 inch aluminum window screen, or a 42×108 inch piece of Faraday cloth. It was cold and windy, and I felt the faraday cloth would be the fastest to deploy.
For the most part it was, except the wind was taking the cloth everywhere. I didn’t have any weights or branches to hold the cloth down, so I did the next best thing. I grabbed several chunks of frozen snow from the snow pile at the edge of the parking lot. This provided enough weight to keep the cloth in place even though the winds were gusting up to 20 mph.
In setting up the vertical, I extended the whip and sort of eyeballed its length. I’ve gotten pretty good at doing this as when I check the vertical on my analyzer, I was coming in at 1.44:1 on 15 meters. That’s good enough for me so I left it at that.
For the rest of the setup, I got out the Yaesu FT-891, 20ah LiFePO4 battery, headset, and logging computer running Hamrs. The radio was set to 50 watts transmit power. I like to set the radio on the front dash of the car and sit in the passenger seat. That gives me plenty of legroom and no steering wheel to contend with.
Turning on the radio and tuning to 15 meters, the first thing I noticed was the noise. Background noise was coming in at about an S5. Usually this area is pretty quiet with an S1-S2 noise floor, so the higher noise level was a bit unexpected. I’m guessing this was atmospheric as there isn’t any industry in Hatley, and being a Saturday, any noise generating businesses would be closed. Despite the noise, when I started calling CQ, the contacts started to roll in and and most everyone as at or above the noise level, so copying stations wasn’t that difficult. Once I got established on the band, contacts rolled in at a steady rate, not overwhelming, but steady. I seemed to have a pretty good path to the west coast, getting many California stations, along with the northwest and rocky mountain states. I logged 82 contacts on 15 meters in about an hour.
As 15 meters was slowing for me, I decided to jump to another band to finish out the activation. Still not wanted to go to 20 meters, I did the next best thing and set up on 17m. Extending the whip a bit, I was able to get a really good match, with an SWR of about about 1.1:1. Again that was mostly by eyeballing the whip length as I extended it. Noise on 17m was almost worse than on 15m. Not only was it still at an S5, but I also had a buzzing and clicking in the background that made copying weaker stations very difficult.
I had more pileups on 17 meters than I did on 15m as was evidenced by my run time, 70 contacts in 40 minutes. I also got some DX on 17m: Alaska, Dominican Republic, and Barbados. The band was open but noisy. The clock hit 2:30pm local time and I have over 150 in the log. I was also nearing the limits of my listening to the noise, so when there was a lull in the contacts, I did ‘last call’, got two stragglers, heard nothing else, and shut down.
This was my 5th activation of the Mountain-Bay State Trail, netting 152 contacts on 15 and 17 meters. So far at this park, I’ve made 742 contacts and worked 5 bands and I’m pretty much the leader at this park. So ignoring 20 meters wasn’t so bad (In one activation I did 20 meters exclusively and made 209 contacts). I’ll come out here again, most likely on a Friday afternoon and do a big 20 meter activation to give the park more exposure.
The snow chunks kept my faraday cloth in place, it didn’t blow away that afternoon. A couple of the sections on my whip had frozen, I’m guessing there may have been a touch of moisture inside the whip from a previous activation. But they broke free, it wasn’t enough to totally freeze them in place.
And finally, staying warm. In weather like this I can usually operate for about an hour in the vehicle before I have to stop, start the engine and warm up. I keep the engine off during activations to help reduce noise. My fingers are the first to feel the cold, but I was parked facing south and got just enough afternoon sun to help keep things warm inside the car. I didn’t have to pause to warm things up again. I’ve got a few strategies for staying warm during cold weather POTA activities and that will be the topic of a video in a week or so.
K-9806 Mountain Bay State Trail 15m contacts with 1/4 wave vertical antenna
K-9806 Mountain Bay State Trail 17m contacts with 1/4 wave vertical antenna
If you go
Mountain Bay State Trail passes through the communities of Wausau, Weston, Hatley, Norrie, Eland, Bowler, Shawano, Bonduel, Pulaski, Anston, Howard, Green Bay. A State Trail Pass needed for bicycle and horseback riding
Hatley, WI Trailhead
Marathon County Public Library, Hatley Branch
435 Curtis Ave
Hatley, WI 54440
Open weekdays and Saturday, hours vary