Nellie Staves

Nellie Staves

Photography by Howard Jennings

          Nellie Dunbar grew up roaming in the forests of northeast Vermont. Hunting, fishing and trapping were a way of life. Nellie didn’t care that it was rare for a girl to do those things. She always felt more at home outdoors than inside. She found the best places to set traps for beaver and coyote. She developed quite a taste for brook trout. She learned not only to shoot a gun, but also to load it, clean it and carry it safely. She was also taught some important rules for conservation. Her parents taught her to be careful and never take more than she could use.

          As a girl, Nellie was always on the lookout for shelf fungus, a tan colored semi-circular fungus that grows on the side of deciduous trees with its flat “shelf” side up. When she found one, she would carve her initials or draw pictures. Today, Nellie still turns shelf fungus into works of art.

Nellie Staves

Engraving of a bobcat on tree fungus, Nellie Staves.

          After she was grown and married, she went to work as a logging camp cook in Long Lake, New York. She endured through many days of getting up long before sunrise to feed and clean up after fifty-seven hungry lumberjacks. In those days a cook would be responsible for fueling her own wood-burning cookstove, butchering the meat and baking bread, cookies and pies. Nellie also helped with laundry, bookkeeping, and scaling the logs.

          She went through one stretch when she didn’t have a day off for two years. When she did finally get a day off, she went to a movie and in the dark theatre promptly fell fast asleep!

          After Nellie’s first husband passed away, she remarried, becoming Nellie Staves, and moved to Tupper Lake. She became very involved in conservation and in the Franklin County Fish and Game Club Federation. She began teaching hunter safety and sportsman-landowner relations to all the 5th and 6th graders in Franklin County. Nellie has garnered quite a reputation. She is the first and only woman president of the Franklin County Federation of Fish and Game Clubs, the first and only woman president of the Tupper Lake Rod and Gun Club, the first and only woman president of the Adirondack Conservation Council, and a delegate to the Local Government Review Board, Fish and Wildlife Management Board and DEC Open Space Committee. She is also a trustee and member of the Natural History Museum in Tupper Lake.

          When asked what she enjoys most she says, “Just being there, being in the woods. It’s part of me. I love it.”

Nellie Staves