FAIRFIELD — The sun is just making its way into the morning sky when Riverside Drive resident Sara Jaeger starts her four-mile walk.

Her route takes her through the Ash Creek open space, into the marina and then Jennings Beach, before heading into the parking lot and starting back home. What had started as a way for some exercise and a peaceful way to start her day since retiring in 2010 from a family-operated wholesale flower buiness in Werstport, has become more of a mission.

When she walks, the 68-year-old Jaeger carries a plastic bag, wears gloves and holds a “grabber” as she collects the trash she finds along the way.

“The amount of garbage I saw every morning was disgusting,” Jaeger said. “In the spring, a heron flew by and it had fishing line tangled around its foot.” The realization, she said, that the tangled line would eventually lead to the bird’s death was horrifying.

“I started bringing a bag and the grabber,” Jaeger said, concentrating at first at the discarded fishing line, and then expanding her cleanup effort to include any garbage. “I grew up very clsoe to Long Island Sound and have always loved the salt water, beaches, marshes,” she said. “Their

cleanliness is very important to me.”

Raised by environmentally conscious parents in Westport, Jaeger said her parents were bird lovers. “We were raised to pay attention to the world around us.” Her father grew almost all the vegetables they ate, with no pesticides. She has followed in those footsteps, and is an avid organic gardener.

Jaeger said he end of the school year is the worst for trash on the beach, and after storm tides, especially during the winter months. Another peak garbage time is when the fish are running, and fishermen are out in force.

Discarded fishing line is still one of the worst problems, Jaeger said, recalling the recent osprey rescue in Ash Creek. The osprey was bound to its nest by fishing line, and while rescuers were able free the osprey, he later died. Volunteers are now building receptacles for fishing line disposal, and they will be put in the town’s marina.

“Even the fishermen on the pier complain about it,” she said, adding she wondered why the town’s Conservation Department hadn’t done something sooner to aid the disposal of fishing line. “I’ve noticed the bird population is is plummeting,” she said.

Plastic bags and balloons are other hazards for wildlife, Jaeger said.

She still finds the walks a peaceful way to begin each day, and said, “Anything I can do to mitigate the problem makes me feel a little better.’

When not walking the beach, Jaeger can be found in her garden, watching the birds at her birdfeeders, reading or cooking

greilly@ctpost.com; 203-842-2585