Cindy Smart, founder of the Durango Botanical Society, doesn’t shy away from big ideas.
While working in California, she wanted to learn to sail, so she built a trimaran.
After she became interested in jewelry, she founded an international gem company.
She wanted Durango to have public gardens, so she founded a society to build them.
“I just never thought there was anything I couldn’t do. So I never see obstacles; I think I always see the end results,” Smart said.
Establishing the botanic gardens outside Durango Public Library was one of her more recent projects. She founded the Durango Botanical Society to build and run the public gardens in 2010 with four volunteer board members and a $1,000 grant.
She pitched the gardens to her prospective board members after filing the paperwork to form the botanical society, so she was pleased when they agreed to join the effort.
“The right people came together, and we had a very single vision. ... We were able to produce results in a matter of months that the public could actually see,” she said.
Smart, 74, led the society as executive director until January, when she stepped down to become the No. 1 weeder, she said jokingly.
Before founding the society, Smart was a businesswoman who started working when she was 15 as a telephone operator in California. She worked there full-time in high school to help support her family.
The job and a ham radio hobby led her to a communications position on a U.S. Army base in Long Beach during the Vietnam War.
From her desk, she watched sailboats in the harbor and decided the only way she would get one was to build it herself.
When her trimaran was finished, Smart made her maiden voyage to Hawaii with her husband and their friend.
“We were just sure the entire way we were lost,” she said. “You don’t really have confidence in yourself till you have hit land for the first time.”
She sailed quite a bit in her 20s and started selling her handmade jewelry in ports.
Someone she met in her travels told her about the Gemological Institute of America, and she later enrolled in the school.
Her degree from the institute allowed her to cut gems, appraise jewelry and work with well-known retail stores, such as Tiffany & Co. It also laid the foundation for her business, International Gem Laboratories, a company that imported jewels from Asia.
“During those travels, I fell in love with pearls, and that’s what I specialized in,” she said.
In 1981, she moved to Durango and opened two jewelry stores – Quigley’s and La Petite Shop – and continued to run her gem-dealing company.
In the late 1980s, Smart and her husband, Jim Smart, decided to buy a mobile glass company. She was in the process of selling International Gem Laboratories, but the sale hadn’t gone through, so the couple maxed out their credit cards to make the purchase. She promised her husband they would make their money back in 60 days, and they did, she said.
Over time, the company evolved into Smart Enterprises, on the corner of Main Avenue and east 14th Street. Smart’s daughter Malaika Mestas now owns the business, which sells glass, spas, hot tubs and other products. Smart continues to run the company’s website and social media, she said.
After stepping back from the company, Smart decided to take classes to become a master gardener. She learned to love gardening as a child working with her grandfather, who built many public gardens. After finishing the classes, a friend offered her a grant to help start the public gardens.
For her, Durango’s gardens are a legacy that can thrive forever and help educate residents about the drought-resistant and climate-appropriate plants to use in their own landscaping. The gardens also provide space to test out plants from around the world to see whether they will acclimate well to the area.
She expects stepping down from the job as executive director will give her more time in the gardens planting, weeding and talking with visitors about the importance of donating to the society so the gardens can be maintained for the next generation.
“I will be more valuable to the organization as a cheerleader,” she said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgA previous version of this story gave an incorrect name for Durango Botanic Gardens.