Fall 2009 Issue

Homing In

Pay to Play? ARDF vs. Park Officials

By Joe Moell, KØOV


Kelsey White and her dad, David White, WD6DRI, built a measuring-tape antenna for transmitter hunting at our most recent session. Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS supplied the kit. (Photo by Joe Moell, KØOV)

“Never pick a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” This adage, attributed to Mark Twain, has been on my mind for the past week.

I don’t know how many barrels of ink are in each press run of CQ VHF magazine, but I know that more than once over the years I have had to resist the urge to use a gallon or two to take on persons or institutions that seem to be threatening my favorite part of ham radio.

That temptation is very great again. Nevertheless, I’ll try hard not to rant. Instead, I’ll use the situation as an opportunity to present a matter that could have an important impact on the success of international-rules Amateur Radio Direction Finding (ARDF) in the USA.

Not in My Park!

In the last decade, southern California has led the rest of the USA in the development of ARDF, which is also called foxtailing and radio-orienteering. One important factor for our success has been our regular sessions in local parks where beginners can learn the techniques and advanced foxtailers can train for national and world championships. We try to have a session every month, except during the holiday season. At most of the sessions there is a pre-hunt clinic where newcomers can assemble and check out measuring-tape Yagis and offset attenuators to use with their handie-talkies to find 2-meter radio foxes.
We choose our sites from about a dozen large city, county, and state parks, most of which have been well mapped by the Los Angeles Orienteering Club (LAOC). That’s important, because good orienteering map-and-compass skills are vital for success in championship ARDF events.

After each session, we head for a local eatery and plan the next one. By “we,” I mean Marvin Johnston, KE6HTS; April Moell, WA6OPS; and me, plus any other attendees who are interested. There is no formal club, and there are no dues and no treasury. Hunters pay nothing, except for the LAOC full-color maps and the optional antenna/attenuator kits. That means no politics and fewer hassles. We like it that way!

For a month we planned our last Saturday session at a 670-acre county park east of the city of Los Angeles. I sent dozens of e-mail invitations and put the details in my website. During that time, a very large wildfire broke out in the mountains just to the north. The park became a major staging area for firefighters and their equipment, but there was still plenty of open space for the ARDF course and hundreds of park patrons.

On the Wednesday before the session, I received e-mail from a senior typist clerk in the park office. The first paragraph read: “We have been informed that your group is planning on having a radio-orienteering event. Please be informed that there are no areas available. In order to have your event here you must first apply for a Permit for Use of Regional Parks and provide the required insurance documents. Failure to follow these regulations will result in shutting down your event.”

The clerk’s e-mail went on to state that our planned gathering area would not be available on a Saturday until three weeks after our planned date. A reservation for that area would cost $150. An alternative area, available one week after our planned date, would cost $400 to reserve.

Minutes later I was on the phone with the person who wrote the e-mail. I asked her if she could assist me and she assured me that she could. I explained that we did not have a need to reserve a specific area and that we often arrive at parks to find that our planned gathering place is unavailable. When that happens, we just find another location and tell late arrivers about it on the talk-in frequency. She continued to insist that our planned gathering point was to be the site of a wedding reception and that we had to make a reservation for another spot, apparently thinking that we would be attracting a very large crowd.

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