Like a climbing a tree, preserving trees while maintaining safety is a balancing act.

And it's a balancing act that town Tree Warden Ken Placko has done since 1992. A recipient this year of the Outstanding Tree Warden award from the Tree Wardens Association of Connecticut, Placko is ready to branch out when the year ends, retiring after 33 years with the town.

"I've always loved trees," Placko said in a recent interview. "When I was a little kid, I would go into the woods to climb them or cut them down. I built a little log cabin when I was 8 or 9."

Placko was hired by the town in 1981 as the open space manager with the Conservation Department. Though he majored in wildlife management in college, "part of that is dealing with trees and landscaping," so later becoming tree warden wasn't so far afield.

He was appointed by the Board of Selectmen to fill the tree warden position that had been empty for a year following the retirement of Danny Groudin.

As a lover of trees, Placko said, he doesn't like it when he has to take one down, "but I realize the danger they can do." One of the duties of the tree warden, he said, is to help manage public safety.

During his tenure, Placko established the Fairfield Forestry Committee, with the goal of increasing awareness about the importance of protecting trees.

As part of his job, Placko plants trees and tends to their preservation, care or removal if they are on public property. He is also usually asked to predict whether the town's famous dogwood trees will blossom in time for the annual Dogwood Festival.

After Placko received the award from the tree wardens group, First Selectman Michael Tetreau said, "Our town is very proud of the outstanding work Mr. Placko has performed in our community over the years. He has gone above and beyond time after time, especially during the intense storms we have faced."

He said Fairfield is fortunate to have a "hardworking and dedicated tree warden like Ken Placko."

The association gave Placko its award for his "diligent work in the Town of Fairfield and for helping fellow tree wardens across the state."

Fairfield recently celebrated Arbor Day with a ceremony at the Greenfield Hill Cemetery on Bronson Road with the planting of two dogwood trees. The cemetery has recently been the site of preservation work led by volunteer Melanie Marks. Marks is a member of the Eunice Dennie Burr Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which has chosen the cemetery as its contribution to the town's 375th anniversary celebration. The DAR plans to dedicate a new plaque to 10 Revolutionary War soldiers buried in the graveyard.

Oliver Nurseries, of Fairfield, planted the two dogwood trees at the entrance of the cemetery.

This past Arbor Day in April also marked the 25th year that Fairfield was awarded a Tree City USA award from the Arbor Day Foundation, one of only a handful of communities in the state to win the honor as often. It recognizes the town's commitment to nurturing its tree canopy and forested properties.

Placko said he has nothing specific planned post-retirement. "I'll probably start looking for something, just to keep me somewhat busy," he said.