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This year's festival is proudly
brought to you by Amica's Pizza


Meet Susan Dempsey Hughes, our 2022 Commodore.

2022 commodore


I grew up in South Florida on the island of Palm Beach. My father was a successful restauranteur, and my days were filled exploring an uncrowded island, finding new beaches with friends and helping with the family business. It was an amazing time to be a kid in the 1970’s in South Florida. Those years go by quick and before I knew it, was time for college so I set my sights on California to pursue a degree in art. 


In 1989 I loaded into my Subaru and headed west to meet my best friend and her boyfriend in Colorado where we would spend the summer before continuing to California for school. When I arrived in Salida, I was so taken back by the beauty of the Colorado landscape that I decided to postpone school and see what Colorado might have to offer and got a job as a river guide on the Arkansas River. It was a cold spring and training was uncomfortable and hard and so different than life in Florida, but I really liked it. I learned how to read the water, catch eddies and rig an oar bot. I enjoyed finessing a raft through class 3-4 rapids and sharing the experience with customers who come maybe just once in a lifetime to the mountains of Colorado. River guiding was in my blood, I had found my place. I also found a new river family. Raft guiding can be thrilling and crazy, but the responsibility is very real, the act of traveling together on a river and looking out for each other’s safety creates bonds between people that are unique and powerful. 

It became clear to me that Colorado was my spot, so I buckled down and completed college. I started in Boulder and ended up in Durango at Fort Lewis College because it had an awesome river scene. I considered buying a house in Durango, but it was out of my price range, so I headed back to Salida in 1995. A friend recommended I go talk to this old Italian guy about a rental house. I walked up with my big hairy dog and my river guide outfit, and he looked at me and said, “I don’t rent to no river guides or dogs.” Deflated, I turned around and headed back to my car. About halfway down the driveway, he muttered “But I’d sell it…” After a few bottles of homemade red wine and a plate of soppressata I was officially a homeowner in Salida, Colorado. 


I spent the next years living and loving everything about Salida. I continued to river guide, eventually managing and running the company I worked for. I rode bikes, hiked the trails around S-mountain with my dog and followed my main passion, which was kayaking. Those were the years of freedom and adventure, and my love of rivers took me from California to the Southeast and even to the remote jungles of Central America. One of my fondest memories of those years was running the Grand Canyon. To be in the depths of the Grand Canyon, days out on a river trip, I had truly found my people and place.


In the late 90’s I was settled into Salida and starting to look for ways to engage in the community. I joined the FIBArk board of directors, and before I knew it, I was organizing whitewater events and helping run a festival. In the early 2000’s FIBArk was facing some real challenges with growth. Luckily, we had some very creative and fresh energy in town, and people were motivated to keep FIBArk vibrant. The board over those years was able to bring in new sponsors and concepts to generate revenue in new ways which allowed FIBArk to grow.


I have also been involved with other organizations in Salida that I feel are important. I have volunteered for the Arkansas River Trust, Salida Mountain Trails and the Salida Recreation Board. I have also been involved with Natural Resource Center and the Chaffee County board of Realtors. Currently I’m co-owner of Pinon Real Estate and feel very lucky for my place in this community. My business partner, my fellow Pinon Realtors and I believe that Pinon should always be looking for ways to give back to our community.


Salida has been such an incredible place to live and raise a family. I met my husband Zack on the banks of the Arkansas River kayaking. I’m now raising my two daughters Izzy and Maggie on the banks of that same river. Watching them surf, swim and boogie board their way through the whitewater park in the summer fills me with gratitude. I’ll never grow tired of standing on the F-street bridge looking upstream at the river, people and mountains that I call home. I’m truly honored to be picked as the 2022 FIBArk Commodore. I look forward to seeing everyone over the FIBArk weekend, catching up with old and new friends and sharing all the wonderful things Salida and the Arkansas River have to offer.  

Previous FIBArk Commodores

Susan Dempsey-Hughes
Tim Brown
Jim Dickson
Joel McBride
Stew Pappenfort
Rob White
Kim Bouldin
Bill Block
Greg Felt
Ed Loeffel
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