20220106-NWS-gsnc river dave

"River Dave" Lidstone stands at a boat ramp on the Merrimack River in Boscawen on Aug. 7. His friends were going to his old cabin, which had burned down to check on his cats and chickens. A judge had not yet allowed him to return to the property to gather his belongings. "I'm just going stand on the other side of the river like a good little boy," he said.

After a December arrest for trespassing, David Lidstone has again returned to the Canterbury land alongside the Merrimack River where he insists he has a legal right to live.

Lidstone could be arrested again this week in the latest in a legal dispute between 86-year-old Vermont landowner Leonard Giles and the 81-year-0ld hermit known as River Dave that began in 2016. A cabin Lidstone built on the land burned down in August after Giles had his son begin tearing it down. Lidstone reportedly went back in November and began staying in an old wood shed left on the property.

Canterbury Police arrested Lidstone on Dec. 14 for criminal trespassing after the town was notified from the property owners that he had returned to the land near Oxbow

Pond Road. When officers arrived, they saw smoke coming from a chimney in the former woodshed and encountered Lidstone there, according to an affidavit. The site was posted with no trespassing signs.

Lidstone spent the night in Merrimack County jail in Boscawen after refusing bail, but Judge M. Kristen Spath released him the next day on the condition that he stay off the land. He is due back in court on March 7.

Canterbury Town Administrator Ken Folsom said this week the landowner’s attorney sent him a more recent photo of Lidstone standing outside the camp, taken on Dec. 31. Canterbury Police will arrest him in the next few days for trespassing if he remains there, Folsom said, but it takes time for officers to get out to the camp on foot, particularly in bad weather.

“They have some other things going on right now. It’s not high on the list of priorities,” Folsom said.

Lidstone was arrested in July on a civil contempt sanction after refusing to leave the wooded land where he had lived for decades. The 73 acre woodlot been owned by the Giles family since 1963, passing from one family member to Leonard Giles in 2004.

Lidstone has maintained that he had an agreement with the previous landowner to live on the land, but had nothing in writing. He also argued that Giles doesn’t have a valid deed to the property where the cabin was located.

While Lidstone was jailed in August, his cabin burned to the ground. Canterbury Fire Chief Michael Gamache said the fire’s cause was likely accidental, potentially sparked by the solar panels dismantled earlier that day by one of Giles’ sons, or by power tools used to take down the cabin’s structure.

Giles’ attorney Lisa Snow Wade said that the owners conducted inspections of the property in December, including taking photos. Snow Wade was aware that Lidstone was back on the property again.

“We’re going to let the court deal with it,” she said. “We’ve let the court know that he’s in violation of the court’s order and he’s going back there.”

Kayaker Jodie Gedeon, Lidstone’s friend, isn’t worried about him surviving the winter. She’s concerned about his safety when others discover his presence on the woodlot. In December, Lidstone called Canterbury Police to report that someone was harassing him. “Someone went to visit him and was not so nice to him,” Gedeon said.

She said that in the spring, Lidstone hopes to rebuild his cabin or buy new land elsewhere. The thousands of dollars that Lidstone received in donations for finding a new home are held in a trust. Lidstone can’t withdraw the money himself without at least two other signees on the account, she said.

Although Gedeon has tried to urge caution, Lidstone makes his own choices. “It’s his life, it’s what he knows, it’s what he loves,” she said. “He’s 81. He’s set in his ways.”

This article is being shared by a partner in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.