NPOTA: ARRL’s Best Idea?

The National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) is off and running. Making contact with a handful of stations currently operating from NPOTA locations has made me wonder if the ARRL has had a good idea with NPOTA as a way to help celebrate the anniversary of the National Park Service.

From ARRL: “Throughout 2016, Amateur Radio will be helping the National Park Service celebrate their 100th anniversary. Hams from across the country will activate NPS units, promote the National Park Service and showcase Amateur Radio to the public.”

I am a huge fan of both the National Parks and the National Park Service. Anyone who is interested in the history of our National Parks would be well rewarded to start with the Ken Burns documentary The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. Yellowstone generally gets credit for being the first National Park back in 1872. However, the National Park Service was not established until 1916. That period in between provides us a very good reason that there are times when we need a government organization to protect us from ourselves. During that in between period, the Army was given the mission of attempting to protect both Yellowstone and Yosemite. Like most missions the Army received, they were underfunded, under equipped, and undermanned. They did, however, do the best they could to protect these amazing areas. Many Americans saw these new National Parks as areas for economic exploitation. If it wasn’t for many individuals working long and hard for the establishment of the National Park Service, it is very likely we would not be able to enjoy the parks we have today. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were the two primary individuals who secured the establishment of the National Park Service. Ken Burns talks about these two individuals in his documentary and there are also a few books that do a great job telling the story (Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years and The Birth of the National Park Service: The Founding Years, 1913-33).

Yosemite: President Theodore Roosevelt, left, poses with John Muir for pictures on Overhanging Rock at the top of Glacier Point, near which the men camped in a hollow and awoke to five inches of snow in 1903.

The National Parks exist for our enjoyment. Generally that enjoyment manifests itself in some type of hiking, camping, fishing, watching for wildlife, or learning about history. This interaction between Park and citizen can be passionate, emotional, revitalizing, inspirational, and an educational experience.

With all that being said, I was a bit surprised to hear stations making contacts for NPOTA locations like it was a contest. Each NPOTA location is identified by a letter-number combination. No discussion of where they actually were. No description, no discussion. It is a bit sad to see there is a Leader Board – which only facilitates looking at NPOTA as a contest rather than an actual celebration.

I also wonder how these activations are impacting those non-amateur radio enthusiasts who are visiting a NPOTA site. Is this putting amateur radio in the best light?

Are these NPOTA activations promoting the National Park Service or showcasing Amateur Radio to the public?

If so, how?

What would Stephen Mather and Horace Albright think about NPOTA?

It will be interesting to see how NPOTA progresses over the coming weeks and months.

3 thoughts on “NPOTA: ARRL’s Best Idea?”

  1. Unfortunately, this is the state of Amateur radio today. The art of the “ragchew” has been lost, for the most part. When was the last time you had an actual conversation with a DX station? I am willing to bet quite a while, or perhaps maybe the first time in a long while. QSOs these days seem to be “Thank you. You’re 5X9 in XX. QRZ?” or even worse in CW, “TU 599 MN QRZ?”

    We’ve become so used to “radio sport” that the act of civil conversation has become a lost art. This is sad. Back in the day, when you worked a Special Event station, you generally got an explanation as to what the Special Event was all about, even if it was a brief explanation. These days, it’s all about QSO/per hour rates and who’s the leader of the pack.

    73 de Larry W2LJ

  2. Interesting and relevant comments – thanks!

    Fauna & Flora, Castles, Islands, Summits . . . we have them all, but the people who ‘activate’ them often show a willful ignorance of where they are and the importance or value of the place. The Fauna & Flora programme, especially, trumpets the fact that it has records of millions of QSO’s . . . Why!? I am sure that less than one percent of those carried any informative content.

    The US National Parks are true wonders. I have tramped over many if not all in the south-west, with a camera in hand, dusty boots, water bottle and rucksack. And I’ve camped backwoods on my own, the only person for scores of miles. Radio hams who ‘parachute in’ and then barely look beyond their own egos should do the same before filling the ether with their “five and nine, QRZ” twaddle, and should “communicate” with a deeper understanding and celebrate such a priceless heritage in a meaningful way. Racking up rubber stamp QSOs does not achieve that, never has, and never will.

    National Parks on the Air is a great idea, I hope that it results in ‘serious fun’ not ‘pointless twaddle’ . . . there’s enough of that.

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