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The History of Cheyenne’s Botanic Gardens: A World Class Oasis In A High-Altitude Desert

  • October 3, 2022

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

A dry climate, at high altitude, with little winter snow, frequent high winds and semi-regular hailstorms don’t mix to make Cheyenne the ideal location for a 9-acre collection of specialty landscapes and a three-story grand conservatory.

Nor would any logical person bet that a group of senior citizens, at-risk youth and handicapped volunteers would make up a stable volunteer workforce that provides most the labor required to maintain and grow such a monumental facility.

“I kind of jokingly say you’d have to be an idiot to put a botanic garden in Cheyenne, and I was that idiot,” said horticulturist Shane Smith said. “But I sure had a good time.”

And so have countless others who’ve enjoyed the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens over the last 45 years.

From Our Archives: Interview With Shane Smith From 2019

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Smith, who in 1976 was a horticulture research assistant at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, had become fascinated by solar greenhouses, which no one in the region had developed to that point.

But in Cheyenne, the nonprofit Community Action of Laramie County had seen some success with small 10-by-12-foot solar greenhouses. When the organization began construction on a 5,000-square-foot building, Smith volunteered his time and was ultimately asked to head up the facility, which was named the Cheyenne Botanic Garden.

“Originally, the main idea was to give senior citizens meaningful activities that produced food,” Smith said. “So under my tenure, we planted the first seed. I paid for the seed out of my own pocket because there was no budget for seed.”

Two or three months after the garden opened in 1977, Smith was approached by the local Goodwill organization, which asked if there would be a

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