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Meet Your Ecotour Guides

Local naturalists making up the team at Asheville Hiking Tours

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.

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!

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.

Brooks Coker

Ecotour Guide & Naturalist

My passion for the outdoors grew from the many summer camps and outdoor programs I attended as a kid. Originally from Northwest Arkansas, the vibrant and diverse landscapes of the Ozarks stoked my affinity for the natural sciences. If summer camp was the spark, then The Great Smokey Mountains were the flame. Based out of Knoxville, TN, I spent eight years learning, working, and playing in the mountains of Southern Appalachia.

Most of my outdoor education work has been in the nature camp setting. Getting to shape young people’s first impressions of nature is a very humbling and life-giving experience. The lessons I’ve gained as a camp educator have given me confidence in many other areas of life and outdoor leadership.

As a person of color, I hope to continually remove barriers for anyone and everyone to experience the outdoors. I consider it a privilege that I was introduced to all of this at a young age and I consider it a responsibility to help others experience the benefits of nature.

If you go on a tour with me, you can first expect to have fun! You can also expect us to nerd out over outdoor gear, trees, salamanders, and a whole lot more.

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!

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.

Emilly Nolan, MS

Ecotour Guide & Naturalist

With a background in wildlife biology, specifically amphibians and reptiles, Southern Appalachia has been a dream to work in and explore. I currently work for the Amphibian and Reptile Conservancy as their Southern Appalachians Program Coordinator where I get to do just that!

I received my B.S. in Conservation Biology from SUNY ESF in 2016 and spent the following years working in the Sierra Nevada with endangered frogs where I fell in love with hiking and backcountry camping. I then spent some time in Wyoming acting as an Environmental Educator for K-12 students. I obtained my M.S. in Environmental Science from Tennessee State University which is what brought me to Southern Appalachia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I studied Eastern Hellbenders, the largest aquatic salamander species in North America!

While on a guided hike with me, expect to see me with eyes on the ground, hunched over turning up rocks and logs to look for salamanders, all while trying not to trip over my own feet and hold conversation! My goal while guiding is to have guests really appreciate and be aware of how special the Blue Ridge ecosystem and associated biodiversity is. You will have a toad-ally awesome time learning all about the unique adaptations of species you may have never even known existed!

Chaney Swiney, MS

Ecotour Guide & Naturalist

Growing up across the mountains in Tennessee, the peaks and coves of the Smokies were my gateway to a life spent on trail. My enthusiasm for the natural world grew and flourished alongside my other passions: photography and maps. You’re probably not going to catch me in the mountains without a map in my pack and a camera at the ready!

I have a passion for outdoor recreation on America’s public lands, a deep love of mountain landscapes, and a keen interest in Blue Ridge natural history. This led me towards my bachelor’s degree in Geography from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

After stints with National Geographic and the National Park Service, I followed my zeal for outdoor recreation and magnificent landscapes to Oregon, where I dove into natural history while completing an MS in Environmental Education. Now that I’m back in the Southern Appalachians, the mountains that first sparked my love for the outdoors and the wonder of the natural world around us, I’m excited to share these beautiful and biodiverse landscapes with you as we hike and explore together!

Moni Hill, BA

Ecotour Guide and Naturalist

Whenever I reach the summit of one of the incredible Blue Ridge Mountain peaks and behold the long-range views of the Appalachians, I let out a song of joy, much like Maria at the beginning of The Sound of Music. True story – ask my easily embarrassed family.

I’ve hiked these mountains daily with families, friends, and guests for over two decades. I am forever in awe of the region’s biodiversity and the magnificence of the forests in the mountains. Every season brings new wonders and delights: the spring brings knock-your-socks-off Trillium and migrating warblers, like the Black-throated Green up from the tropics; during the warm summer months, the mountains are alive and luscious (SO MANY SHADES OF GREEN!!); in the fall, the vibrant colors are more stunning than a van Gogh painting; and the bare trees of crisp winter allow the long-range views to come into sight!

In addition to leading tours, I’m also an artist and I attempt to bring all my senses into the forest. The mountains’ sights, sounds, smells, and textures make hiking their trails an inspiring and fully engaging experience. The mountains are calling – let’s go!

Anna Hunt, BS

Ecotour Guide & Naturalist

I’ve learned the plants, animals, and other inhabitants of the Southern Appalachian Mountains from the inside out. My love of nature started early on weekly family hikes around the Asheville area and during countless hours spent playing outdoors and staring at bugs, birds, bees, and trees. In college years, I dove into studies of ecology and natural history as well as summer environmental education and adventure leadership jobs. And always, there is more to experience, explore, and enjoy.

The woods, streams, and mountains we’ll be exploring truly feel like friends, and I’m honored for the opportunity to help you get better acquainted in your own way. A single hike in the woods can go a long way towards forming your own meaningful connection with the natural world and with the parts of you that stare in wonder, buzz with curiosity, pause in reverence, and grin with aliveness.

We’ll tune in with all our senses and discover what we can see, hear, smell, feel, and even taste out on the trail together!

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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