Fairfield's observance of Arbor Day has taken root over the past 25 years. On Friday, the observance marked the 24th year that the town has been cited as a "Tree City USA," and the 20th year with Ken Placko as the town's tree warden.

What made this year's Arbor Day different, though, was the planting of 100 American Chestnut tree saplings on municipal open space properties throughout the town, a project that is a collaborative effort between the town, the Fairfield Garden Club and the Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station.

The American Chestnut tree, which once faced near extinction, was thought to be the perfect project for the local garden club as part of challenge issued by the Garden Club of America as a way to mark its 100th anniversary, according to Barbara Wooten, the project committee's chairwoman.

"Everyone's been working on this really, really hard," Wooten said. "It's our gift to Fairfield."

The town and the garden club worked with Sandra L. Anagnostakis, an agricultural scientist with the experiment station.

"Urban forestry has become a big deal," Anagnostakis said. "People have realized the urban forests actually contribute an enormous amount to the health of every environment."

She said this is the first time she has planted American Chestnuts in the southern part of the state. "It's a good chance for me to see how our trees will perform," Anagnostakis said.

"They're not all going to survive; some will be killed by meadow mice or succumb to drought ... but I'm hopeful that many of them will survive and will have a chance in about 10 years to start making seeds that will be distributed by squirrels and birds in the forest."

Misty Beyer, chairwoman of the town's Forestry Committee, was on hand for Friday's ceremony.

"You can talk anything up, but to do it, and go through the process and be organized," she said. "We are so fortunate you got the work done."

Barbie Bartlett, a past garden club president who worked to help plant the trees, said the help from the town during the long planting day was "phenomenal."

"They were right there beside us with the topsoil, and the mulch and the water truck," Bartlett said, adding she has planted three American Chestnuts in her own garden.

A total of 25 trees were planted on the Hoydens Lane property where a new softball field is being developed, and 10 each were planted at Perry's Mill Pond, the upper and lower fields at Springer Glen, Mountain Laurel, several sites on the Lake Mohegan property and the shooting range on Hoyden's Hill.

All the young trees will be surrounded by fencing to protect them from foraging deer.

Also on hand Friday were state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection State Forester Chris Martin and Urban Forester Chris Donnelly to present the town with the Tree City USA award.

Donnelly said there are now 19 municipalities in the state with the Tree City designation, "but the very first one was Fairfield."

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-556-2771; http://twitter.com/GreillyPost