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Looking spiffy in their new Commodore shirts (equipped with official epaulets and sporting their instantly recognizable hats, more than a dozen former FIBArk Commodores gathered on Wednesday evening on the plaza at the Salida SteamPlant to officially celebrate the return of the nation’s premier whitewater festival, FIBArk. They gathered for good-natured photos, then welcomed the newest FIBArk commodore Susan Demsey Hughes, to their ranks.

Her acceptance speech had more than one river reminiscence; beginning with how she arrived in Salida on her way to go to university in Washington, “and I just somehow never left,” she explained, pointing out that her first years in the county were all spent as a river guide on the Arkansas River. She is, she says, absolutely honored by the Commodore honor because FIBArk is so important to the community.

Her love of the community of Salida is obvious. “This place grabbed me and held me and I see so many wonderful friends here, people I worked with on the river who arrived before me or when I did and never left. This is such a special place and I’m so lucky to live here.”

Dempsey Hughes might have spent her early years here, but she didn’t stay on the river. In the 90s, she took time to get a BA in Anthropology from Fort Lewis College and in 2002, she went on to start Pinon Real Estate Group, one of the more successful real estate companies in the Central Colorado Rockies. Her interest in the environment, the health of the Arkansas River, and serving the community is well-known.

Editor’s Note: FIBArk stands for “First in Boating on the Arkansas”, and 2022 is the 74th celebration of this whitewater festival.

Featured image: A gathering of FIBArk Commodores welcomed the 2022 FIBArk Commodore Susan Dempsey Hughes to her role as leader of the nation’s premier whitewater festival. Photo by Jan Wondra