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Meet Your Ecotour Guides

The best expert naturalists in Asheville.

Jenny Gruhn, PhD

Company Owner, Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Welcome to Asheville Hiking Tours! It is my passion to provide an inviting and informative experience in the great outdoors. After academic years publishing scientific articles and teaching biology courses, I’m enjoying designing and leading ecotours in my home state.

Due to my early interest in Appalachian ecology, I pursued courses at Highlands Biological Station in Western North Carolina and a biology degree at UNC-Chapel Hill. For 3 years I researched tropical plants of Ecuador, Colombia and Peru and for my Ph.D. I investigated Rocky Mountain and Sierra Nevada pine forests. I am a Certified Interpretive Guide and have led nature tours for Citizen Science Programs and clubs of nature enthusiasts.

Now, I enjoy every Asheville Hiking Tours adventure, which promises novel experiences and unique wildlife sightings each day. I look forward to sharing with guests an inspiring tour in these beautiful mountains.

Eli Adams, AS

General Manager, Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

My appetite for adventure led me to North Carolina’s eco-rich mountains from South Florida! It makes sense that I am deeply attracted to these mountain peaks since my family is originally from the volcanoes of El Salvador.

I graduated from Florida SouthWestern State College with a focus on Southeastern Ecology. I spent years as an eco-guide in Captiva Island, Florida kayaking through mangroves and swimming with the manatees. That is when I truly fell in love with environmental education and community outreach, becoming a program developer for global and local non-profits. My experiences have given me a wild passion to foster inclusivity within the outdoors, to ensure that everyone feels welcome and safe outside. I’ve also traveled to the Big Island of Hawai’i in effort to study regenerative agriculture and accidently fell in love with long distance backpacking.

You can guarantee that we will get lost in conversation on our hike while sampling some of nature’s best herbal medicines. I look forward to sharing an insightful and therapeutic hike with you as we safely venture into the wild together!

Shannon Krenek, MS

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Getting to learn about and traipse through the magical landscape of Western NC is dream enough; getting to share this beauty and knowledge with our guests is fulfilling beyond words!  I’ve taken a circuitous route to this role, having grown up in the midwestern plains and gaining degrees in psychology and social work. What I lack in formalized natural sciences training I make up for with a deep and joyful passion for this biodiverse hotspot I have called home for two decades. I have a scientist’s brain and a helper’s heart, which I discovered results in exceedingly fun, informative, and connected experiences in the woods together.

My favorite biota to learn about in this region are native and medicinal/edible plants and fungi, but I’m equally thrilled to dig into the study of our salamanders, lichen, trees, insects, mammals, birds…the options are seemingly endless!  And that is precisely one of the most magical elements of this place: there isn’t a lifetime long enough to explore every nook, cranny, species, or relationship in these ancient mountains. Getting to expand this knowing with the incredibly nerdy staff at Asheville Hiking Tours makes it all the more enjoyable.

MK Brown, BS

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Growing up in Eastern North Carolina, you could always find me outside uncovering nature mysteries. Not much has changed since then as my curiosity and fascination with the natural world has only deepened with age. Throughout the years, I have explored many places from the pacific west coast to the shores of Costa Rica but nowhere compares to the brilliance that is Southern Appalachia!

Since graduating with an Environmental Studies degree, I have worked as an environmental educator at Haw River State Park in North Carolina and as an outdoor instructor and naturalist for a large nonprofit in North Carolina as well as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am currently pursuing a certification in interpretive guiding to sharpen my skills as an educator and to help others cultivate a personal relationship with the natural world.

In my free time, I enjoy creating jewelry out of natural items and finding little moments of awe in nature.  I am excited to share this journey of discovery with you here in the Blue Ridge Mountains!

Jennifer Shuler Hodges, BS

Ecotour guide and naturalist

Growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Asheville, I spent my time exploring the forest and everything in it. I would pick up bugs, inspect flowers, compare leaves, and turn over rocks. I hiked every trail I could find, some that were not a trail at all, in search of swimming holes, caves and Blue Ridge Mountain vistas. I was lucky to grow up in one of the most biodiverse places in North America.

My curiosity of the forest and how it all seemed to work together steered me towards a degree in Landscape Horticulture and Botany from North Carolina State University. I became an even bigger plant nerd, and naturally my love for the Blue Ridge Mountains called me back to Asheville. A few years after college, I opened a wholesale plant nursery just outside of Asheville, and for 21 years operated this business with my husband.

I am excited to now be leading guests into the woods to experience the magic of our wildly complex forests, and help them unplug and feel a connection to nature. I love sharing my knowledge of plants, insects, wildlife and ecology as we hike along wooded trails, tasting edible plants along the way to a magnificent waterfall.

Anton DuMars, PG

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

I am an educator, author, and forever student. I am a lifelong geologist, receiving my BS and then MS degrees from The College of Charleston and Louisiana State University, respectively.

I taught geology and performed research for much of my career. After spending nearly 40 years on the beaches and in the saltmarshes of Coastal South Carolina, and even owning and operating my own ecotour company there, I shifted my focus to the natural history of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. It is certainly an interesting (and very old) story!

My hiking trips focus on observation. I view the world through “geo-goggles” and I prompt others to do the same. These mountains, shaped by tectonic forces, are full of folds and faults, and valleys and ridges, both old and new. These structures affect the Appalachian flora and fauna, the location of rivers and streams, and influence human migration pathways. The Appalachian Mountains are a big beautiful puzzle, and I am thrilled to share their convoluted stories with you on our excursions.

Niko Faherty, MPA

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

I grew up in these Blue Ridge Mountains and love exploring everywhere between our lush, stream-filled valleys to the endless mountaintop vistas, especially to search for hidden waterfalls and secret swimming holes. The explosion of wildflowers and mushrooms during the change of seasons will always amaze me!

Growing up in Asheville, I have many stories to share about how this area was settled and has changed over time. From the geologic formation of the ancient Appalachians and the lands of the Cherokee, to the Scotch-Irish settlers looking for independence, and the lavish lives of the Vanderbilt’s in the Biltmore Estate leading to the conservation of Pisgah National Forest.

I have adventured all over Latin America to study sustainable tropical agriculture and learned from the indigenous peoples, but I always return to this beautiful part of the world, and love to share it with others! Come on out for a hike with this fungi and you’ll be lichen your hiking tour while smelling spicy scents like wild mountain mint, snacking on sweet flavors from the forest, and cleansing our lungs with natural waterfall purification!

Retired Assistant Guides

Bill Sanderson, MS

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

As a longtime resident of Asheville, I have spent years exploring the mountains of western North Carolina. I am a lifelong outdoors enthusiast and trained zoologist, a veteran of 30 years in the high school classroom and over 15 years in the local community college.

I have led hiking groups and participated in search-and-rescue operations in Western North Carolina for over 25 years. I am a volunteer trail maintainer, responsible for a 6-mile section of the Appalachian Trail east of Hot Springs as well as a 2-mile section of the Mountains to Sea Trail near Craggy Gardens.

Identification and natural history of local animals, trees, and wildflowers is information that I enjoy sharing on my trips with Asheville Hiking Tours. While viewing beautiful waterfalls and streams, I discuss the hidden wonders beneath those waters. Brook trout, stonefly nymphs, North America’s largest salamander and endangered mollusks are a few of the inhabitants of these fragile and precious waterways, and I look forward to telling their stories.

Randy Sarton, MA

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

I have had many professional adventures over the years which have led me to the mountains.  After receiving Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees from the University of Notre Dame, I have been an entrepreneur, an agronomic adviser, a classroom educator, and an ecotour guide.

My years as an educator have included lecturing as a college professor, instructing middle and high school students, and developing and presenting children’s nature-based, early learning programs for 5-star resorts. For the past ten years, I have led ecotours on the estuaries and beaches of South Florida as well as the mountains of North Carolina.

I work to engage tour participants by interpreting what we encounter with insight and fun.  By relating stories to show normally unseen connections and unique perspectives, I strive to welcome our guests to celebrate the wonders of nature in our beautiful mountain home.

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