CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A former hermit in New Hampshire whose cabin in the woods burned down while he was in jail last summer for squatting on the property — even though he’s lived there nearly three decades — has been charged with trespassing there once again, turning a shed that survived the fire into a makeshift home outfitted with a wood stove.
There had been an outpouring of support for David Lidstone, 81 — better known as “River Dave” — since he was arrested in July and accused of squatting on property owned by a Vermont man. His cabin burned down in August while he was jailed.
Lidstone was a local celebrity to boaters and kayakers on the Merrimack River before his property dispute caught the attention of the masses, bringing in more than $200,000 in donations to help him start a new, law-abiding life.
Lidstone, who 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 on a trespassing charge Dec. 14 and faces a court hearing in March.
“Sometimes, you have to stand up for what is right,” Lidstone told The Associated Press in a phone interview from the site Tuesday. “I’m 81. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Lidstone is a logger by trade who chopped his firewood and grew his 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. Lidstone had claimed that years ago, the current owner’s father gave his word — but nothing in writing — allowing him to live there.
In the summer, he was jailed on a civil contempt sanction and was told he’d be released if he agreed to leave the cabin following a property dispute that 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 Tuesday of Lidstone’s arrest.
Last summer, both sides agreed to arrange for Lidstone to collect his cats and chickens and remaining possessions at the site. Lidstone also was given permission to hire a surveyor to give him “peace of mind,” Judge Andrew Schulman said. As of Tuesday, Lidstone said he has not been able to get someone to come out to survey the land yet.
A fire destroyed the cabin Aug. 4, hours after Lidstone defended himself during a court hearing. He was released from jail the next day after the judge ruled that 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 the fire was an accident. He said a representative of Giles who was starting to demolish the cabin Aug. 4 disabled solar panels, which still had electrical charge in them. He 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 making things burn.
“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.”
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