When we discovered the Clearing online in the spring of 2014, and contacted the realtor representing the sale, we were given a brochure with photos, and the following information about this amazing property, its legacy, and its inspiring owners (with whom we have become friends):
The Clearing bears a unique educational legacy which the ownership hopes to pass on to those who share a similar desire to foster knowledge and personal growth in others, all within a restorative and inspiring environment. The picturesque setting of the residence, landscaped grounds and wildlife pond emerging from the surrounding forest offer a peaceful retreat and opportunity for creativity. However, it is the property’s short pathway to the shore of undeveloped Molly’s Falls Pond which opens a door for lasting memories.
The Clearing is located in the village of Cabot, home to the well-known Cabot Creamery, a cooperative dairy of local farmers who produce award-winning cheeses and dairy products. In town, there is a general store, post office and community school. Cabot is mid-way between the cities of Montpelier and Saint Johnsbury, 30 minutes to the west and east, respectively. I-89 connects Montpelier to Burlington, the largest city in Vermont (an additional 45-minute drive), and beyond to Montreal (3 hours from Montpelier).
THE STORY BEHIND THE CLEARING
The Clearing has been an integral part of Bob and Mary Belenky’s professional and personal lives since they first acquired a portion of the property in 1972. Previous to this, Bob and Mary had been working and raising a family in the Boston suburbs. Bob was a clinical psychologist and saw a need for troubled, urban youth to have the opportunity to retreat from their daily lives for reflection and renewal. With that goal in mind, Bob and Mary purchased 60 acres near Molly Fall’s Pond and constructed a modest building where Bob could bring small groups of youths for a multi- day, rural experience. They named it the Clearing and a 43 year-long story began.
In the beginning, conditions on the property were primitive and access was by foot.
Construction materials were brought in by boat and lugged the 5-minute trek through the woods to the site. While the children participated in the construction and maintenance of the building as well as basic housekeeping during their stays, the goal of bringing them to a rural retreat was not survival training or self-exploration through an intense wilderness experience. Rather, Bob describes the forest as a “stage set” on which children could explore their problems from back home and develop strategies and skills for coping when they returned. The property was meant to feel safe, to nurture, and to inspire.
The groups Bob brought to the property were small, never more than 5-6 at a time. As Bob spent more time in Vermont, he became interested in homeless youth in Vermont and extended his services at the Clearing to them as well. At the other end of the economic spectrum, many prep school students with disciplinary problems came with their parents to reflect on their choices and develop a map for their future. Even now, former clients stop by for a visit to re-connect, reminisce, and express appreciation for their experience.
Bob spent 15 years bringing a variety of children and parents to the Clearing. He also enjoyed the property with Mary and his two children, when it wasn’t being used as a retreat. Over time, Bob and Mary acquired another 70 acres, improved access to the property, added a second cabin so there could be two indoor places for counseling, built a small writer’s studio for Mary to use when she came, and dug a small pond. Mary shares Bob’s interest in children and families; however, her path led her to focus on women, the traditional caregivers of children. Mary spent her career researching, writing and teaching about women as well as directing a project in Vermont focusing on rural women as parents.
Bob and Mary moved to the Clearing in 1995 and lived on the property full-time for five years before moving to a condo and then a retirement community and enjoying the property as their own retreat. Bob’s focus on children has shifted to the struggles of young people in Russia and Haiti, although Bob and Mary continue to be dedicated to the educational, cultural and developmental growth of children in their own community.
Hoping to see the property remain undeveloped, in 2005, Bob and Mary placed a conservation easement on all but 3 acres of their property. Having dedicated their lives to the betterment of children and their families, Bob and Mary envision the Clearing continuing to serve a greater purpose past their own lifetimes. To that end, they seek a buyer who will use the property for some type of programming which seeks to make a difference in the world. While their dream is not specific and not directed to continue their own work, Bob and Mary’s wish is to see the property continue to inspire, educate, and nurture – as it has so many lives, including their own.
THE CAPE HOUSE
The residence was built in 2004 and was designed by the renowned Vermont artist David Smith. The well- constructed cape with southerly exposure offers nearly 1,100 square feet of living area. While the property offers a remote location deep in the woods, the ownership has developed an off-grid infrastructure which offers all of the comforts of a village home. Solar panels and electric storage cells provide power and a 900-gallon capacity propane resource supplies the heating, cooking and hot water units. High-speed internet and phone service is available throughout the residential grounds. A nearby natural spring provides water to the homestead.
OUTBUILDINGS and GROUNDS
The Writers Cabin is situated close to the residence along a landscaped pathway. While its footprint is small, the space is inviting and warm. It has functioned as an office but could also be additional housing for 1-2 people.
The red Recreation Cabin was constructed by the ownership and several students over the course of a summer. The space is rustic, but inviting, and well- suited as office space, additional housing or any number of other creative endeavors.
The grounds have been a work in progress for decades and include detailed stone stairs, patios and walkways, diverse plantings of perennials, shrubs and fruit trees, and the small pond which serves as a backdrop to the grounds.
The small pond at the entrance to the landscaped and residential area attracts a variety of wildlife.
Molly’s Falls Pond:
The residence is situated ±1,000’ from Molly’s Falls Pond, a 411-acre, deep-water reservoir (maximum depth of 34’), known as one of Vermont’s least developed large water resources. The lake and 1,017 acres of forest surrounding it were recently acquired by the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), ensuring that much of this ecosystem and recreational resource will be protected from development for generations to come. VLT plans to transfer the land to the Vermont Department of Forests and Parks as part of its Groton State Forest complex.
The short, forested pathway from the house to the shoreline provides quick access to the lake for swimming, fishing and launching of kayaks the ownership has kept on the shore for years. A small beach area with a primitive campfire ring provides an ideal spot for picnics and evening gatherings. Small-mouth bass, chain pickerel and yellow perch are common fish species in the lake. Associates include brook, brown, rainbow, lake and salmon trout.
Other than the small clearing at the residence, the property is completely forested. The gentle terrain slopes from south to north towards the pond. Soils are primarily well drained with no notable wetlands existing on the property.
The timber resource can be considered above average with respect to stem quality, stocking and level of desirable species composition. Northern hardwood stands occupy the majority of the forest, with sugar maple and yellow birch the dominant species. Spruce and fir become an increasingly higher component of species composition as the terrain nears the pond. There are a variety of age classes, with the majority of volume in stems above 65 years in age. However, a considerable 30-year-old age class is represented.