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‘River Dave,’ New Hampshire hermit, arrested after returning to live at cabin site

David Lidstone, 81, was a celebrity among boaters and kayakers on the Merrimack River before a dispute over his squatting on land someone else ownede caught the attention of the masses.

David Lidstone, 81, known as “River Dave,” whose cabin in the woods burned down after he’d spent nearly three decades living in seclusion on the property despite being ordered to leave, has been charged with trespassing there once again.
David Lidstone, 81, known as “River Dave,” whose cabin in the woods burned down after he’d spent nearly three decades living in seclusion on the property despite being ordered to leave, has been charged with trespassing there once again.
Steven Senne / AP

CONCORD, N.H. — A longtime New Hampshire hermit whose cabin in the woods burned down after nearly three decades on the property that he was ordered to leave has been charged with trespassing there once again.

David Lidstone, 81 — known as “River Dave” — returned and was making a makeshift home of a shed that survived the fire, outfitting it with a wood stove, authorities said.

There’d been an outpouring of support for Lidstone after his previous arrest, in July, when he was charged with of squatting on property owned by a Vermont man. The cabin where he’d been staying burned down in August while he was jailed.

Lidstone was a celebrity among boaters and kayakers on the Merrimack River before his property dispute caught the attention of the masses — and brought him more than $200,000 in donations to help start a new, law-abiding life.

Lidstone, who said he was grateful for the support, had secured temporary housing as he figured out where to live next and believed that he could not go back to being a hermit.

But he returned to the site in Canterbury in late November, turning the wood shed into a home. He was arrested Dec. 14 for trespassing.

“Sometimes, you have to stand up for what is right,” Lidstone said by phone from the site when asked about his return. “I’m 81. I’ve got nothing to lose.”

Lidstone was a logger and chopped his own firewood and grew food in the woods along the river. The property, undeveloped and mostly used for timber harvests, has been owned by the same family since 1963, despite Lidstone’s claim that, years ago, the current owner’s father gave his word — though nothing in writing — allowing him to live there.

Last summer, he was jailed on a civil contempt sanction and told he’d be released if he agreed to leave the cabin to resolve the property dispute, which goes back to 2016. The landowner, 86-year-old Leonard Giles, of South Burlington, Vermont, wanted Lidstone off the property.

“We’ll let the court address it,” Lisa Snow Wade, an attorney for Giles, said of Lidstone’s latest arrest.

Lidstone was alloed to collect his cats and chickens and remaining possessions at the site and also was given permission by Judge Andrew Schulman to hire a surveyor to give him “peace of mind” regarding the land’s ownership. Lidstone said he still hasn’t been able to get someone to survey the land.

After a fire destroyed the cabin on Aug. 4, hours after Lidstone defended himself during a court hearing, the judge released him from jail, saying he would have less incentive to return to “this particular place in the woods” now that the cabin had burned down.

Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache said fire was ruled to be accidental, that a representative of Giles who was starting to demolish the cabin disabled solar panels that still had electrical charge in them and also used a power saw to cut into metal supports that held the panels onto the roof. Either action could have created sparks to start the fire, Gamache said.

“What can I say, Dave is where he is happiest the most,” Jodie Gedeon, a kayaker who has known Lidstone for years, posted on Facebook. “He loves to be in nature and what you’d call a free bird. ... We are still planning to build or purchase a home in the spring.”