The fall weather attracts anglers to lakes and ponds in Union County parks. But the county is devoted to keeping its local waterways free of used fishing lines and other debris that may harm marine life.

Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski, the chairwoman of the Union County Board of Freeholders, said its parks are important habitats for wildlife. The county started a program called "Reel In and Recycle" in which bins have been installed throughout the parks near where people go fishing.

The bins are for people to put fishing lines so that they don't fall into the waterways and become a hazard. In the past, she said monofilament fishing lines have entangled wildlife. In 2015, a rare green heron was almost strangled to death in Lenape Park in Cranford when it somehow got entangled in one of these lines which got into a tree. Luckily, some passersby noticed the heron in distress and called parks services and police, who managed to free the bird.

The problem with monofilament fishing lines is that they take more than 600 years to decompose, making it one of the most persistent forms of pollution in waterways, said Kowalski.

The idea is for fishermen to gather up their lines once they're done catching fish and put them in these bins. She said the collected fishing line will be sent to the Berkeley Conservation Institute, which has recycled more than 9 million miles worth of fishing line into raw plastic pellets since 1990. These pellets are then used to make new products such as tackle boxes, spools for line and fish habitats.

The "Reel In and Recycle" bins are located throughout Union County Parks including Briant Park (Summit), Cedar Brook Park (Plainfield), Echo Lake Park (Mountainside), Lenape Park (Cranford), Nomahegan Park (Cranford), Milton Lake Park (Rahway), Sperry Pond (Cranford), Seeley's Pond (Mountainside) and Warinanco Park (Roselle).

"We're really are interested in protecting our environment here in Union County. I hope these efforts will help and I think people will realize that they can be part of the solution," said Kowalski.

Other recycling programs in Union County parks include The Adopt-a-Park Program in which volunteers clean up the areas in parks heavily used. This helps restore habitats.

Kowalski said educational programs at Trailside Nature Center at Watchung Reservation is a nice place to take the kids, she said. It's open every day, noon to 5 p.m., free of charge.

Recycle bin bags are also distributed to senior citizens. There's also the Recycle Coach App in which people can download and find where there is recycling in their area.

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