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Hikers can make a New Year’s resolution for adventure when the Swannanoa Valley Museum’s annual hiking series resume in 2018. The museum offers two hiking programs, the challenging Swannanoa Rim Hike Series and the more moderate Valley History Explorer Series.

The Rim Hike Series explores the peaks of the Swannanoa Valley, while the Valley History Explorer Series revisits the past of local communities across the valley. Prospective hikers can learn about the programs at three free informational meetings.

The first will be at the museum on Tuesday, Jan. 9 at 6:30 p.m. The second will be at REI Asheville on Wednesday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. The third will be held at Black Dome Mountain Sports in Asheville on Thursday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m.

Now in its ninth year, the popular Rim Hike series consists of 11 hikes that reveal the history and geography of the Swannanoa Valley. The hikes explore a different section of the 31-mile-long Swannanoa Rim, terrain that spans from Jesse’s High Tip, across Lakey Gap, over Ridgecrest and Montreat, up to the Blue Ridge Parkway and down to Cedar Cliff above Camp Rockmont.

The hikes take place every third Saturday from January to November. Participants register in advance and meet at the museum (223 W. State St., Black Mountain) to depart at 8 a.m. The hikes are led by veteran hikers who share their knowledge about the history, topography and ownership of the land. Each hike ranges from three to eight miles over elevations ranging from 2,316 to 6,462 feet.

The first hike of 2018, Rhododendron Rim, will take place Saturday, Jan. 20. The hike passes through property once owned by Spanish architect Rafael Guastavino, best known for his innovative system of self-supporting arches and vaults using interlocking tiles in some of New York’s most famous Beaux-Arts landmarks, as well as Asheville’s Basilica of St. Lawrence. Guastavino retired in Black Mountain and built an eclectic estate called Rhododendron and known locally as the “Spanish Castle.”

Many of the hikes are strenuous and are recommended for experienced hikers. Over the course of the year, the series traverses a distance of more than 52 miles. The museum issues a “Passport to the Swannanoa Rim” for each hiker to keep track of their progress as the series proceeds. Hikers who finish all the hikes of the series are awarded during a celebration held at the end of the annual series. To date, more than 130 hikers have finished hiking the entire rim. One intrepid hiker, Charles Jolley, has completed every rim hike since the series’ inception in 2009.

“To me, the Rim hikes are more about the place than the pace,” 2017 finisher Lucy Sawyer said. “Group hiking is a unique experience. If I wanted to hike fast, I'd hike near the front. When I wanted to look at the flowers, I'd hike near the back. That said, I found every hike strenuous and some were quite challenging.

“We frequently hiked uneven, steep terrain in difficult-to-reach areas,” she said. “I think these hikes are good for folks comfortable being active outdoors in a variety of weather conditions. An experienced hiker - even one out of shape like myself - will be fine. For someone who is interested but not sure of his/her ability level, I'd recommend coming to an information meeting and talking with one of the hike leaders.”

The experience of hiking the Swannanoa Rim is priceless to participants, and the participation fee for the hikes helps sustain the nonprofit Swannanoa Valley Museum, Buncombe County’s primary museum of general, local history.

Each hike costs $30 for museum members and $50 for non-members. Participants can purchase the entire series for $280 for members and $310 for nonmembers (which includes a $30 annual museum membership), and receive $50 off by preregistering for the series. Hikers are encouraged to purchase an annual membership to the museum to save on the cost of hikes and to receive a discount for the series.

The eight hikes in the Valley History Explorer Hiking Series delve into the unique history of the small communities that shape the Swannanoa Valley. These hikes are both informative for natives seeking a connection with their heritage and newcomers hoping to gain insight into the region’s past. Each hike, led by an experienced guide, is about three miles long over moderate terrain.

The hikes are held every second Saturday from March to October. Each hike departs from the museum. The cost of the hikes is $25 for members and $35 for nonmembers. Hikers can purchase the entire series for $175, a discount of $25 – or one free hike. Nonmembers are invited to purchase a museum membership to save on the series, and can purchase both for $205 total.

To ensure that events are accessible to all who wish to participate, for the fifth year in a row the museum will offer two donation-funded full scholarships towards the cost of a hiking series. The scholarship is generously funded by donations from past finishers and community members interested in keeping history alive. To apply, applicants are invited to mail or email the museum a 500-word essay explaining why they want to participate in the program, which series they would like to hike, and how the scholarship would help them participate, along with their contact information. To make a donation for the scholarship, contact the museum.

The museum’s hiking programs instill a pride of place for hikers.

“I viewed the Rim hikes as a huge challenge,” past finisher Suzanne Money said. “As my passport book gathered more stamps, I realized how fortunate we all were to hike with informative leadership who arranged many treks on private land. The museum’s hikes introduced me to many special people whom I will always treasure as friends.”

Space on the hikes are limited, and hikers are encouraged to register early. Detailed information about each series and descriptions of the individual hikes are available at swannanoavalleymuseum.org. To learn more, contact the museum at 669-9566 or email info@swannanoavalleymuseum.org.

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