A Denver man has completed his sentence for public lands offenses last year on Independence Pass above Aspen, only to face charges for his alleged antics at Hanging Lake and Keystone Resort ski area this year.
David Lesh faces five misdemeanor counts in connection with the Hanging Lake incident in June, and one more for an April incident in which he allegedly rode a snowmobile at Keystone.
The new charges, filed Tuesday, come as little surprise. During a June hearing by telephone on the Independence Pass case, presided over by federal Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher, who is based in Grand Junction, Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Hautzinger indicated his plans to pursue charges after having just learned from Forest Service rangers about the Hanging Lake and Keystone incidents.
Lesh himself has been documenting some of the actions authorities say constitute legal violations.
He is the owner of the Virtika clothing company, and photos posted to his Instagram page showed a man appearing to be Lesh riding a snowmobile with a Virtika logo on it, with a July 4, 2019, post saying “Independence Pass on Independence Day. That’s a first,” according to a Forest Service investigation. He reportedly was accompanied by a second snowmobiler and crossed fragile, high-alpine tundra.
He was ticketed for possessing or using a motorized vehicle in designated wilderness, snowmobiling in a restricted national forest area, damaging any natural feature or other U.S. property, and selling or offering for sale merchandise or conducting any work activity based on his actions on the national forest.
Under an agreement with prosecutors, he was required to perform 50 hours of public service and pay a $500 fine to resolve that incident. He satisfied those conditions, meaning that a tentative return court date Tuesday was canceled.
In April Lesh reportedly posted social media photos showing him snowmobiling at a terrain park at Keystone. State ski areas had been closed at the time due to COVID-19. He has been charged with operating a snowmobile off a designated route.
In June, Lesh was the subject of considerable attention and outcry when he posted an Instagram picture of himself standing on a floating log that juts out into scenic Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon. Scott Fitzwilliams, supervisor of the White River National Forest, said a Forest Service special order prohibits anyone from swimming in the lake or walking on the log.
“It just seems he’s purposely doing this to get attention. Now he has to face the consequences, I guess,” Fitzwilliams said.
He said that as far as the Forest Service can tell, at the time of Lesh’s visit, Hanging Lake still was closed to the public as part of a regionwide forest order making developed recreation sites off limits due to the pandemic. Even when open, Hanging Lake is accessible only by purchasing a permit.
The five counts against Lesh related to Hanging Lake accuse him of entering or being in a prohibited body of water; entering an area closed for the protection of property; entering an area closed for protection of historical, archaeological, geological or paleontological interest; entering an area closed for the protection of special biological communities; and entering an area closed for the protection of endangered plants, animals or fish.
Hanging Lake is a blue-green travertine lake with a curtain of falls spilling into it and a hanging garden plant community.
Each of the six counts against Lesh is punishable by up to six months in prison and/or up to a $5,000 fine upon conviction. A charging document says prosecutors aren't seeking detention in this case.
Steven Laiche, the attorney who represented Lesh at his June hearing, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment after the new counts became publicly available late Tuesday afternoon.
The Forest Service heard from a number of people who were concerned about Lesh’s Hanging Lake post and possible impacts to the lake.
In his post, he said that before people feel compelled to offer their opinion on him walking barefoot on a log, they should consider the measures the Forest Service took to “protect” the Hanging Lake area. He said the agency “destroyed fragile ecosystems by paving roads and parking lots, building trails, bathrooms, visitor center, bridges, walkways, and signage, so hundreds of thousands of people could easily access this place. (Expletive) off.”
The Forest Service and partners implemented the permit system to limit daily visitor numbers and protect the area.