Dane County Expands Indian Lake County Park

by Josepha Da Costa, age 15

Recently, Dane County Board adopted a resolution that expands Indian Lake County Park. The resolution authorizes the purchase of 295 acres of land, which will be added to the park. This expansion makes Indian Lake County Park one of the biggest parks in Dane County.

“Indian Lake County Park is one of Dane County’s most popular parks, and it has seen even more visitors this year as a result of more people heading outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said County Executive, Joe Parisi, who signed the resolution. “This purchase will allow Dane County to enhance the park’s year-round outdoor offerings and make it the largest recreational park in our system.”

With the new purchase the park now spans 800 acres of land. During the pandemic, there has been an increase in visitors to the well-known park. The Indian Lake County park offers areas for activities like fishing and picnicking, also including a dog park.  [read more]

NASA's Planned Lunar Mission Will
Include the First Women on the Moon

by Mariama Bah, age 13

In 1969, Neil Armstrong was the first man to reach the Moon. In 1983, Sally Ride was the first American woman to walk in space. And now through Artemis, a new lunar exploration program, there are plans to send the first woman to the Moon as soon as 2024.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine told CNN that the first female astronaut to walk on the moon will be someone “who has been proven, somebody who has flown, somebody who has been on the International Space Station already” and someone who is currently in the astronaut corps. Bridenstine wants to release the identities of the team soon, at least two years before the mission, hoping it will be a beacon of inspiration for girls all over the world who are witnessing this iconic time in history. [read more]

Alarming New Science Suggests Polar Bears
Could Go Extinct in Our Lifetime

by Zale Thoronka, age 11

Did you know scientists estimate that there are currently only 25,000 polar bears left in the world? And, due to global warming, some scientists have predicted a large portion of the polar bear population will be gone by 2100. The increasing temperatures are melting arctic sea ice, which affects the polar bears in various ways. They are not great swimmers, so they rely on the ice in order to hunt seals for food and also to find their mates.

The life of polar bears, also known as ice bears, includes periods of feasts during the winter and periods without much food, in the summer. Normally polar bears will eat up to 100 pounds of meat to provide the energy needed to last them through the summer months. With rising temperatures and increased ice melting and therefore a shorter hunting season, they now find themselves hungry and on the verge of starvation during the summer months. These periods with a lack of food have been lasting longer than usual due to global warming. "Ultimately, the bears need food and in order to have food, they need ice," said Péter K. Molnár, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough. "But in order for them to have ice, we need to control climate change." [read more]

An Investment for the Future: Restoring Dane County’s Pheasant Branch Conservancy

by Christy Zheng, age 17

Over one hundred years ago, the Acker family converted 160 acres of wetlands and prairies into a dairy farm. In 2019, Dane County purchased the property for an unprecedented $10 million—the largest land purchase for conservation purposes in the county’s history. Restoration of the farmland to its original ecosystems is currently underway, an effort that will advance flood mitigation efforts and improve water quality, among other benefits.

The former farm site will merge with the adjacent 550 acre Pheasant Branch Conservancy, a large natural area in northern Middleton. Dane County is partnering with the Friends of Pheasant Branch Conservancy, the Clean Lakes Alliance, and other community organizations to demolish structures on the property, encourage significant wetland revitalization and stormwater management, and cultivate prairies on former croplands. [read more]

Fannie Lou Hamer: “We Didn’t Come All this Way for No Two Votes”

by Josepha Da Costa, age 15

“If I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off,” said a small woman who stands tall in the history of Black women. Fannie Lou Hamer helped Americans take giant steps toward equality in our country.

Raised in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer grew to be an impassioned and inspiring civil rights activist. She fought tirelessly for better treatment of African Americans and was a pioneer for voting rights.

Born to sharecroppers Lou Ella and James Townsend, Hamer was the 20th and last child in her family. Her childhood consisted of picking cotton alongside her family, leaving school at age 12 to continue working. In 1944 she married Perry Hamer and together they worked on a Mississippi plantation until 1962. On that plantation, she kept records as a timekeeper because she was the only worker who could read and write. [read more]

Wisconsin Faces Major Water Contamination Challenges

by Gabriella Shell, age 14

Almost everyone has heard of the Flint water crisis that rocked the nation back in 2016 and has continued to make national headlines since then. However, few know that Wisconsin has its own problems with water quality that it has been grappling with for decades.

As Flint continues to struggle with replacing all of their old lead pipes, Wisconsin is dealing with the same problem along with added issues of contaminants in local drinking water. With a system of unrecorded lead pipes that are extremely costly and dangerous to replace, along with decades worth of potentially harmful chemicals and nitrates leeching into the groundwater, Wisconsin’s water system is more unstable and unsafe than meets the eye. [read more]

A Preeminent African American Journalist with Deep Wisconsin Roots

by Kadjata Bah, age 15

Described as a “majestic” and “luminous” journalist, Lillian Parker Thomas Fox is one of many Black women who were pioneers in the field of journalism during the 19th century. Publishing her sharp and poignant writing across the Midwest, Fox aspired to direct “human thought forward.”

Born in Chicago, Fox moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin with her family soon after her birth in 1854. She was known to be an avid reader and devoted student until her studies ended abruptly during her third year of high school when she became engaged and married.

Nonetheless, Fox continued her intellectual pursuits. She wrote many articles for Wisconsin’s Black press, one of which fiercely called out American hypocrisy after the repeal of the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Fox wrote “You pity England with her Lords and Commons; Russia with its Czar and subjects, and yet practically acknowledge that you have a people among you of American birth whom you consider by God created for your servants, your inferiors by nature rather than by condition.” [read more]

The California Condor: Back from the Brink

by Dyami Rodriguez, age 15

An endangered species has made a great comeback: a bird called the California condor. The California condor was heading towards extinction, but with the help of zoos and a reproduction program in Los Angeles and San Diego, they are now repopulating and living on their own.

Taking care of the condors was no easy task. Workers at the zoos fed the chicks by using condor-looking puppets. These puppets were also used to raise the chicks for a short time of their life. Once the condors had grown to maturity, they were released into the wild, but this species reintroduction was not easy either. Adult condors often electrocuted themselves on power lines, drank antifreeze, ate lead-contaminated meat, and were also hunted. Scientists wondered if these birds were ever going to live in the wild, or if they would remain dependent on the protection of humans.

In 2007, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger banned lead ammunition in a territory he set aside for condors. Chicks in the area were being taught to stay away from power lines and hunt for their own food by their parents. In 2008, there were more condors in the wild than in captivity. Now condors have also moved into regions such as the Grand Canyon and Baja California. [read more]

Scientist Discovers New Metal-Eating Bacteria in an Unusual Place: His Sink

by Jazmin Becerril Gonzalez, age 13

Bacteria are perhaps the earliest form of life on Earth and can be found everywhere. Earlier this year, scientists accidentally discovered something pretty crazy: a metal eating bacteria that they had suspected existed for decades but were unable to identify.

Dr. Jared Leadbetter, a microbiologist at California Institute of Technology, discovered the bacteria after leaving a glass jar covered with chemicals used in other experiments to soak in tap water in his office sink. When he returned after several months, he found a dark material covering the jar. At this point, he and his team conducted experiments trying to figure out what caused this chemical reaction. They concluded that the dark material was oxidized manganese caused by newly discovered bacteria which probably exists in tap water.

What makes this bacterium so unique is that it feeds and survives off metal by converting carbon dioxide into biomass in a process called chemosynthesis. Since the bacterium is found in tap water, scientists theorize that a chemical reaction between manganese oxides and the bacterium is responsible for clogging the water system pipes with manganese. Scientists are hoping this knowledge about the chemical reaction between the manganese oxides and bacteria will help solve the problem of clogged pipes. Researchers also want to use this discovery to further understand manganese nodules, metallic balls that contain rare metals found on the seafloor. [read more]

How Has the Human Species Survived for So Long?

by Sydney Steidl, age 14

Homo sapiens are the only hominids (human-like) species to have survived in all of Earth’s climate changes over the last 45,000 years. Ever wonder how and why we’ve survived, when other hominid species, like the Neanderthal, did not?

Dr. Patrick Roberts and Dr. Brian Stewart published a research paper in 2018, Nature Human Behavior, claiming that since Earth’s geographies have diversified greatly since the first hominids appeared five million years ago, it was critical to our survival for us to adapt to them.

Other scientists credit our survival to our brain's capacity to form cultures and express creativity along with these adaptive abilities. We are “generalist specialists.” which some say is one reason we have survived for this long. [read more]

Invasive Zebra Mussels Continue to Disrupt
Natural Ecosystems in Local Lakes

by Makya Rodriguez, age 15

Many of us enjoy the local lakes here in Madison. But what people might not know is that our lakes are being invaded.

Zebra mussels are D-shaped mussels that can grow up to two inches in length. They usually have yellow and brown shells with stripes. This invasive species was first discovered in the Madison lakes in 2015 by a class of University of Wisconsin students, although evidence suggests the mussels were present in Lake Mendota as early as 2012. Since that time, zebra mussels have spread to other area lakes including Monona, Wingra, and Waubesa.

These invasive freshwater animals now live in about 250 of Wisconsin’s lakes and rivers, according to the Department of Natural Resources. They arrived in North America as microscopic larvae traveling from Europe or Asia in the ballast water of ships and have since spread through the Great Lakes and various connected water systems. [read more]

The COVID-19 “Summer Slide” Will Target Vulnerable Students

by Leilani McNeal, 15, and Leila Fletcher, 18

No question about it, a worldwide pandemic changed the 2020 school year. What’s so far unclear, according to new research, is the fallout. Many education experts say the fallout will be very bad, especially for America’s most vulnerable students.

The 2020 school year played out in new and different circumstances. COVID-19 caused school districts around the country to close buildings and pivot where possible to remote learning. And for a number of reasons this causes new concerns among parents and educators.

Academic achievement is the primary mission at Simpson Street Free Press. So, we decided to examine school closings and investigate the ramification of online learning for students during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. [read more]

New Rules Restrict Use of Carcinogenic Firefighting Foam in Wisconsin

by Moises A. Hernandez, age 15

On August 31, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) finalized new rules that restrict the use of firefighting foam containing substances known to cause cancer. Under these rules, such firefighting foam may only be used in an emergency. Notably, the new rules prohibit use for training, which has been a significant source of environmental contamination at sites like the Dane County Airport.

The chemicals in question, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals.” This is due to the fact that these substances hardly break down in the environment. Beyond their longevity, PFAS exposure can increase the risk of bodily disorders and chronic diseases like cancer. PFAS are found in firefighting foam and tools we use every day, including food packaging and non-stick cookware. Due to their danger, Wisconsin has now started to limit the effect of these chemicals in our environment by restricting their use, and monitoring their spread. [read more]

The History and Spooky Legends of Lake View Hill Park­

by Zainab Yahiaoui, age 15

There is a fascinating and ongoing story happening in Madison’s northside. It is a story rich with mystery and local history, and it’s a story you can explore for yourself. Legend has it that Lake View Hill County Park is haunted by spirits. The forest and graveyard behind the Lakeview Lutheran Church next to the park are the site of the most suspicious activity, even though the park was the location of an old hospital. Some say the site is haunted because before the building was built the land was sacred to Native Americans.

As local legend has it, people who visit the area often connect with the dead as they walk through these ancient grounds. People who visit the woods come out with stories of what seems like paranormal activity. These strange occurrences include cold spots, awkward mist in some places, and sometimes they report a feeling of something grabbing them. Despite the rumors swirling around about the haunted forest, Lake View Hill County Park is also known for another thing. A sanatorium was built on the site in 1930. This sanatorium was made to accommodate tuberculosis patients since there was no cure for tuberculosis at the time. [read more]

Robert Smalls Rode from Slavery to Congress
on a Stolen Confederate Warship

by Hanna Eyobed, age 15

Robert Smalls was born in 1839, son of a slave owner. Growing up, Smalls wasn’t aware of the miseries of slavery as he was removed from it. Being the master's son, he was worked less and was allowed inside to play with white children. As he started to grow up, his mother worried he wouldn’t understand the dangers of the world for black people. So when Smalls was about 10 years-old his mother made him work in the fields, witness whipping and live among his own people. As he became more familiar with slavery he decided to rebel. Fearing for his safety, his mother asked the owner to send him to Charleston to work.

After a few years of working odd jobs, 15-year-old Robert Smalls was hired as crew on a ship called CSS Planter, which had been refitted as a warship. For the next few years he learned all about the ship, even becoming the wheelman, a position almost as important as captain. He received only one dollar for every fifteen dollars he earned; the rest went to his owner.

By the spring of 1862, in the midst of the Civil War, Smalls was a 23-year-old man with a wife and two children and desperate to buy his family's freedom. Freedom came at a cost. A cost of $800. After a lifetime of saving, Smalls had barely $100 to his name. But he had an idea. Smalls knew every aspect of running the ship. He knew all the shipping routes up and down the coast. And by coincidence he resembled the captain. He decided to steal the CSS Planter. [read more]

Dane County Announces Largest Land Purchase of 2020

by Alan Cruz, age 15

Dane County officials recently announced an important new land purchase in the Town of Verona.  This will be the county’s largest conservation land purchase of 2020. The 160-acre acquisition adds to several other wildlife areas and natural resource areas near the Sugar River in southern Dane County.

This new purchase includes the confluence of Badger Mill Creek and the Sugar River, which is located at the southern part of the property. The area where these two streams come together (a confluence) is considered important to the ongoing conservation efforts in this part of Dane County. The property, and the various adjoining areas, includes fragile wetlands and other natural habitat for fish and wildlife species. [read more]

New Science May Improve Genetic Diversity Among Critically Endangered Cheetah Populations

by Devika Pal, age 15

In February, researchers at three institutions developed a breakthrough process to potentially conserve the cheetah population worldwide. The institutions involved in making this accomplishment possible were the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI), and the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Texas.

Using in vitro fertilization and embryo transfer, biologists and zoologists were able to deliver two cheetah cubs. In Vitro fertilization is the process by which the eggs of one female are fertilized by the sperm of a male, and the embryo is carried by a surrogate mother. Such a process comes as the cheetah population faces lowering numbers and the risks of inbreeding.

This accomplishment “...really opens the door to many new opportunities that can help the global cheetah population,” said Jason Ahistus, a Carnivore Curator at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. [read more]

Cherokee Marsh Regulates Water Flow and Provides Habitat for Native Wildlife

by Mariama Bah, age 13

Cherokee Marsh is home to a variety of flora and fauna that thrive in this unique and significant ecosystem. The marsh is also a very important part of Dane County’s natural environment.

Trees are especially scarce in marshes. Instead, these wetlands boast an abundance of herbaceous plants. Common plants at Cherokee Marsh include cattails, sago pondweed, and hard stem bulrush. This site also supports several rare plant species such as glade mallow, white ladyslipper, and tufted bulrush. Many mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians live in the marsh.

The animals and plants that thrive in Cherokee Marsh are a part of a precise and very special ecosystem. There are some invasive species, however, that threaten the native species at the Cherokee Marsh site. The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department (LWRD) has taken efforts to remove carp, which cause destruction by uprooting the aquatic plants and sediment. [read more]