COARSEGOLD – Folks in the Coarsegold area have likely seen Lenny McConnell walking between his home on Ellen Mine Road and the center of town, picking up trash along the way.
But recently, “Lenny the Trash Guy” has expanded his horizons.
Over the past few weeks, Lenny has taken his mission of cleaning up the roads a bit farther – to the top of Deadwood and along the entire stretch of Highway 41 between Coarsegold and Oakhurst, loading up 73 bags of trash along the way.
But Lenny made it very clear when we spoke to him as he made his way along Deadwood on Wednesday – this is not about the guy; it’s about the trash!
“What I love to do is hike,” says Lenny, who lives about five miles from Coarsegold. “So a couple times a year for the last five years, I would walk my road into town and usually collect seven or eight bags of trash.
“Then I decided, ‘hey, Oakhurst is my backyard too.’ Once I get something in my heart and in my mind, I’m going to do it.” And so he has.
Lenny moved from the Bay Area about 25 years ago and says it took a while to get acclimated.
“I had to get away from there, but when I moved up here, I thought it was awful. Everything closed by 10 o’clock! Then I got into mountain biking and snowboarding and whitewater kayaking. Now I’m a nature dude.”
A trip to Alaska five years ago inspired him to get out on the trail, and he has been an avid hiker ever since. His one-man trash patrol has allowed his hikes to serve a greater purpose.
Lenny has worked at the Tenaya Lodge and the Narrow Gauge Inn, but having grown up in the construction business, he has returned to his roots and now brands himself “a personal home improvement specialist.”
“When I come to your house to work, I have no job other than yours. I’m the best at what I do – drywall, roofing, anything you need. And I will be there when I say I’m going to be there.”
But in between jobs, he continues his passion for cleaning up the trash along our mountain roads. When he talked to friends about starting a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy trash bags, he soon had piles of donated bags. He also says that Caltrans is not only supplying some of the bags, but even offered him “one of those grabber things” so that he wouldn’t have to bend over to pick up the garbage.
“I didn’t want one of those things, because I want the exercise. It’s crunches!”
Lenny leaves his full bags along the road to come back and pick up later, but often finds that someone — perhaps Caltrans workers or a passing motorist –has already collected them.
“When I worked on Road 415 to my house, somebody else picked up the bags,” he says. “I don’t know who it was, but when I went back to get them, they were gone.”
Lenny is amazed and saddened by the things people throw out the window.
“You don’t usually see it from the road, but look on the downhill side – people just pull over and throw out alcohol bottles, fast food containers and dirty diapers. Lots of dirty diapers. I know, people have beautiful cars and they don’t want that stuff in their car. But you see those signs – $1,000 fine for littering. I wonder how many fines have there been in just this area for littering?”
Lenny says being out on Highway 41 has brought awareness to the problem.
“The other day a guy stopped and asked what I was doing. He said he was 85 years old and had lived here 44 years, but had never seen anybody doing this. He shook my hand. It was great!”
As for the option of the “Adopt a Highway” program, Lenny says it’s just not enough.
“You can only adopt a two-mile section — my section is 14 miles! I’m 50, and I’m young at heart, but I don’t want to adopt anything. I have four kids! I’m just trying to clean up.”
Lenny also says he doesn’t want his name on a sign announcing that he has “adopted” a section of highway.
“This is not about me. This is about the trash. Can we just have a little respect? This is a beautiful place and I wanna get it cleaned up so I can roll one time through the whole area and not see any trash.”
When asked if he thinks that will ever happen, Lenny admits that he suffers from no delusions.
“No way!” he says. “Because I went through and worked my butt off one day, and came back to clean up another section, and the section I had just finished already had trash.”
Lenny says his next project will be walking from Coarsegold to Fresno, trash bags in hand.
“I’m taking a bedroll and a backpack, and going all the way to Fresno,” he says with determination and a bit of excitement. “And no, I’m not going to get hit by a car. I had a dream about it, and I’m going to get eaten by a bear. My memorial will be when he s***s me out. I hope you come.”
(Photos by Kellie Flanagan)