SMSD Students Plant Trees at Waterfall Park, Across Johnson County

Published on April 26, 2021

Two girls are planting a tree in the foreground with two girls and a public works employee plant a tree in background at Waterfall Park in Merriam.

Rooted in a mission to plant as many trees as possible, two Shawnee Mission South seniors – Chase Horner and Harley Witbrod – dug deep and got to work.

The outcome: 300 volunteers planted 223 trees across Johnson County on Saturday.  

More than 225 of those volunteers were National Honor Society students from the Shawnee Mission School District. Horner – the NHS president at his school - and Witbrod started the project when they heard about Global Youth Service Day. The two went to a local park and asked people what project they would support.

“The overwhelming majority said an environmental project, and GYSD was very close to Earth Day, so we decided to plant trees,” Horner said.

Equipped with gloves and shovels, the army of volunteers planted several types of trees across the county. They used 15 trucks to shuttle the trees to each location, including nine trees to Waterfall Park.

Merriam Public Works crews provided tools and mulch and worked with the students to plant the trees.

“Merriam has been a Tree City USA Community for over 35 years,” Public Works Director Jim MacDonald said. “It was an easy decision to participate in this project when Chase asked if we’d be interested.”

MacDonald said Waterfall Park was the obvious choice to plant trees. The City recently installed new picnic tables and a playground.

“This tree planting will help provide the needed shade to that area,” MacDonald said. “It’s exciting to work with local students who want to make a difference in their community.”

The students raised $19,725 to plant trees across Johnson County. Horner said they received grants from Johnson County civic groups and NHS student donations but most of the money came from residents who sponsored a tree to have it planted in their or a loved one’s name. 

“I am humbled when I think about all the money raised from this project,” Horner said. “We were overwhelmed with the support this community gave our project and are very proud to be able to give back to our community!” Horner said.

At $75 a tree – the students planted 223 trees with the leftover money going toward next year’s NHS project.

“We hope this project becomes an annual National Honor Society event joining all five SMSD high schools in a day of service,” Horner said. “We also hope to show how a little dedication can make a big difference in a community.”