The Magic of Lenny Arkinstall

By: 
Roberto Vazquez

Lenny Arkinstall has arrived to discuss the Elegant Tern.

He has brought Nugget, his pet chicken, to the interview at Jack Dunster Marine Biological Ecological Reserve. Arkinstall waits for gawkers to pass. It’s an uncommon sight, seeing a chicken being walked on a leash.

Arkinstall then begins to speak, explaining the Elegant Tern has only four nesting spots in the world, including the one at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

On July 7th, Long Beach lifeguards found several dead Elegant Terns on the beach at Junipero Avenue. Thousands of the seabirds had fled from their nesting site on Bolsa Chica, abandoning eggs and nests.

Arkinstall is the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization, Los Cerritos Wetlands Stewards, Inc. (LCWS). His organization was contacted to investigate where the terns were going. He found terns had taken refuge on two barges near the Queen Mary.

It was another fateful event for Arkinstall, whose life has been marked by such moments.

In this case, the LCWS worked alongside International Bird Rescue, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, plus several other organizations, saving 2,500 of the Elegant Terns from drowning or dying of hypothermia.

For Arkinstall, it was both a gift of fate and an opportunity to make a difference.

As a smile spread across his face, he explained, “The terns are normally studied from afar, with telescopes and binoculars. They can’t be disrupted. Here’s the magic about it, even though I hardly had any days off, I was blessed because I experienced the inside of a colony for two months!”

He adds, “I got to observe them like nobody else can, that’s why I love what I do. Working in nature, you get to experience it.”

Arkinstall’s entire life has been one of fateful, unplanned twists and turns. He’s easygoing, recalling the 1970s, living the bachelor life, surfing, partying and hanging out with his close friends.

His blue eyes twinkled, as he confessed, without a trace of regret, “I did it all!”

The early 1990s, however, were a low point, in both his personal and professional life. The investment consulting business slumped, and he sold his place in Huntington Beach. A long-term relationship ended, too, and he wound up living on a boat with his dog, Eva.

Then, one fateful day in 1994, he took Eva to the Los Cerritos wetlands to run around and play fetch. It was a spontaneous decision that forever altered his life.

As he played with Eva, Arkinstall began collecting the trash strewn around him, forming a small pile. There was, “no plan,” he confides. He was merely acting on impulse.

Over time, however, the two returned regularly to the wetlands. The small trash pile slowly became a small mountain. The city of Long Beach eventually removed it and Arkinstall kept piling up more trash to be removed. It took him six years of working alone, but eventually the entire 46 acres of wetlands were cleaned up.

Arkinstall explains the importance of the wetlands, “It’s a salt marsh habitat, home to foraging birds, native plants and marine animals.”

One day, Phil Hester, then Director of Long Beach Marine, Parks and Recreation, asked Arkinstall to clean, maintain and restore several other locations. Arkinstall took a leap of faith and agreed.

He assembled a team, and in 1999 formed the LCWS non-profit to clean Golden Shore Reserve, Alamitos Bay’s Marine Stadium, and Jack Dunster Marine Biological Reserve, among others, including a growing number of homeless encampments.

Six months ago, his life changed again when he was called to clean up an abandoned homeless encampment and found a chicken, tied and tangled to an overturned shopping cart.

He saved her and in a short span of time, they bonded, “I love her,” he says. With a boyish smile he adds, “A week after I got her, she started laying eggs.”

In 1999, when Arkinstall had finished cleaning the Los Cerritos Wetlands, word reached Lillian Robles, who wanted to thank him.

Robles’ family roots could be traced to the founding members of both the city of Los Angeles and the San Juan Capistrano Mission.

Robles was an elder in the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians and an activist for the preservation of sacred, indigenous sites, such as the Los Cerritos Wetlands and Puvungna. Arkinstall explains Puvungna means “place of gathering” and is part of the ancient Tongva burial site where CSULB was later developed in the 1950s and 60s.

When they eventually met in 1999, Robles thanked Arkinstall for his actions at the Los Cerritos Wetlands. He says, “She told me, ‘Grandfather Earth chose you to take care of the two-legged, the four-legged and the plants…’”

There is a momentary, respectful silence, then he adds, “She also said, ‘You know, you’re not getting out of this.’ Almost 30 years later, I’m still at it, so...”

His voice trails off, then he chuckles at the recollection of Robles’ words, shaking his head. “... I guess she was right,” as a sheepish smile crosses his face.

Lillian Robles, died soon after, in April of 2001, at age 84. Her prophetic words clearly affect Arkinstall to this very day, words he takes seriously, as he continues to, “educate the youth and students.”

Later, he arrives at Sim’s Pond for a tour of the wildlife reserve (located at the corner of PCH and Loynes Drive) to lead a Wetlands class from CSULB, taught by Dr. Christine Whitcraft.

The site is one Arkinstall helped restore 17 years ago, back to its original plan as a place for birds, butterflies and other native habitats.

Dr. Whitcraft has known Arkinstall for approximately 15 years and says, “He has a very down to earth approach… when people meet him, they see an expert but also a person that’s just like them.”

After he’s done leading the tour, he returns to his boat in the Bahia Marina, ready for the nightly walk with Nugget, calling out to her, “Nuuuugggie! Nuuuugggie!”

Back at the Jack Dunster Marine Biological Reserve, as a striking woman walks nearby, she does a double take, then stops in front of him.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Arkinstall doesn’t skip a beat. He says, “I prayed for a chick, and I got a chicken!” The woman throws her head back and laughs out loud, a smile spreading across her fine features.

The magic of fate has struck again. A mutual friend, noticing their chemistry says, “Lenny, meet Kathy. Kathy, meet Lenny Arkinstall.”

It’s the latest, fateful moment in the life of Lenny Arkinstall, the man with a chicken on a leash.

Editor Note: The Eldorado Nature Center offers volunteering opportunities, every third Saturday, 10 a.m. at Golden Shore Reserve. Contact Matthew, at (562) 889-0248.

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Comments

Lenny is a gift to Long Beach.
He gives in so many ways to help our local environment, wildlife, at risk youth, students, and homeless.
Thanks for writing this article and reminding us of good people like Lenny who help bind our community together.

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