Hoping to plant the seed of conservation in the public's consciousness, Arbor Day was officially observed by the town Friday.

As part of the celebration, town officials -- in cooperation with Connecticut Light & Power -- gave away hundreds of tree seedlings outside Town Hall. The public was invited to meet some of the town's new arbor staff and take away a fledgling tree.

"I think it's a terrific idea," said Rita Ross of Westport, who had both a kousa dogwood and a douglas fir sapling.

"I'm going to put them right next to the dog run so the deer don't feast on them," she said.

"We donated the seedlings to celebrate Arbor Day, and are spreading the word about planting compatible trees near power lines," said Doug Pistawka, senior arborist with CL&P.

He said the dogwoods are a good choice near power lines since they usually do not grow tall enough to interfere with the wires, while fir trees or river birches, which also were among the giveaways, should be planted at least 30 feet away from wires.

"People love trees in Westport," said First Selectman Jim Marpe. "Our new Tree Board and our new tree warden are in place to see that" trees' heath is maintained.

"With the help of CL&P, we thought we'd give out some trees," said Tree Warden Bruce Lindsay. "We want to ... try and teach the community about being good stewards."

Over the past year, residents were critical after trees were cut down along Main Street, apparently without following proper procedures, as well as the removal of deteriorating trees towering along the entrance drive at Longshore Club Park.

Officials hope the Arbor Day program helps demonstrate the town's commitment to planting new trees, as well as to care for the existing inventory.

"We want to make the public aware that there are people concerned about the trees," said Ed Picard, the new vice chairman of the Tree Board.

"They're good for the environment, they provide oxygen in the air," he said, "and we're just trying to get people aware of the importance of trees."

Susan LeDonne, chairwoman of the Tree Board, said the group also wants "to get the children involved. Next year, we hope to make it a bigger event."