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Meet Your Ecotour Guides

The best expert naturalists in Asheville.

Jenny Gruhn, PhD Company Owner 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.

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.

Paul Stafford, AS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Having been captivated by the southern Appalachian Mountains nearly thirteen years ago, I chose to stay, and dedicate my life to studying the many wonders of our incredibly diverse ecosystem and fascinating history. My education and experiences as a naturalist have unlocked many mysteries hiding in plain sight and a passion for sharing what I have learned.

My fascination with wildlife and the outdoors started as I grew up in a valley of the Appalachian Mountains of Pennsylvania, hiking and searching for hawks and snakes to identify. I have since earned my Wildlife Management Technology degree from Haywood Community College, where I began an intensive study of the local flora and fauna, volunteer experience as a wildlife educator with school groups, and as a wildlife rehabilitator with injured birds of prey. I am currently seeking my North Carolina Environmental Educators Certification to deepen my knowledge and become a better educator.

As a natural storyteller, it is important to me not to show you which bird, tree, or medicinal plant that we come across, but how they all interconnect with each other and with you. I’m excited to hike with you soon! Happy trails!

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!

Eli Adams, AS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

My love for folk music and an appetite for adventure led me 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!

Bill Sanderson, MS Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

As a longtime resident of Asheville, I have spent years exploring the mountains of western North Carolina. 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.

Scott Dean, BA Wildflower Walk Guide and Naturalist

I was born and raised in the mountains of southern Appalachia, specifically the coalfields of West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. Western North Carolina has been my home since 1992. After retiring from the military, I attended UNC-Asheville, earning a degree in biology, with a focus on the flora, fauna and geology of the southern Appalachians.

I was a walk leader and featured speaker for the UNC-Asheville Wildflower Pilgrimage from 1995 until 2015.  I’ve led wildlife and wildflower walks at the Western North Carolina Nature Center, where I worked for a year building the cougar and bobcat habitats, and served as First Vice President of the Friends of the Nature Center as well as serving on the Town of Weaverville Tree Board.  I developed curricula, and taught field classes for the Blue Ridge Naturalist program now offered at the N. C. Arboretum.

I live outside of Asheville with my wife and two dogs. When not leading natural history programs in the region, I enjoy gardening, hiking, backpacking, and playing around with various stringed, wind, and percussion instruments.

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