AZA News Releases

Association of Zoos and Aquariums Awards 44 Nature Play Grants

Silver Spring, Md. – The Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) today announced the recipients of 37 “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grants. With support from the Disney Conservation Fund (DCF), these competitive grants, selected through a rigorous review by a panel of industry experts, are being presented to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to encourage family nature play and conservation education.

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums play an important role in connecting children and families to nature,” said Amy Rutherford, Director of Professional Development & Public Engagement at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “These grants support programs that engage community partners to reach new audiences, help families develop comfort and confidence spending time in nature, and inspire the next generation of conservationists.”

AZA offered the Nature Play grant opportunity to AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums to provide financial, logistical and creative support to increase or enhance family-centered nature experiences in their communities. This program is a partnership with the Children & Nature Network, building on their successful Family Nature Club initiative.

Research has shown that free play immersed in an outdoor setting is fundamental to connecting children with the natural world around them. The value of these experiences is further reinforced when shared as a family unit. The awards of $5,000 or $10,000 were made available to extend existing family-based nature play programming or to create new, innovative, and engaging programs. Preference was given to those organizations that extended programs to off grounds settings and who formed partnerships with community organizations to reach new audiences and provide diverse nature experiences. Applicants were also evaluated on how they addressed and reduced common barriers to nature play for children and families.

A total of 37 grant recipients were selected to receive a combined total of $270,000 in awards. They include:

Adventure Aquarium, “Family Fun with Nature”

Blank Park Zoo, “Permanent Natural Playscape”

Brevard Zoo, “Brevard Families Out to Explore”

Bronx Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “Bronx Zoo Nature Club – Family Events”

Buffalo Zoo, “Nature Play Begins with Nature Play Events and ‘Drop-ins’”

Buttonwood Park Zoo, “Nature Connection Education Center – Nature Play Area”

Chicago Zoological Society - Brookfield Zoo, “Nature Play for Zero to Three”

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, “Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Family Nature Club Expansion”

Cooley Zoo, “Cosley Zoo Nature Play for All!”

Dallas Zoo, “WildFUN”

Denver Zoo, “Nurturing Scientist through Nature Play”

Detroit Zoological Society, “Nature Tots” 

Great Plains Zoo & Delbridge Museum of Natural History, “Great Plains Zoo Nature Play Club Continuation”

Greenville Zoo, “Greenville Zoo Nature Play Outreach to Early Head Start Classes”

Houston Zoo, “Houston Zoo Family Nature Club”

Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, “Nature Trail Enhancements”

Milwaukee County Zoo, “Nature Wonderland”

Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, “Mommy and Me at Mote ‘Exploring the Bay’”

Mystic Aquarium, “Family Nature Club – Field to Sea”

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, “The Lost Woods, Yr. 2 Expansion”

North Carolina Zoo, “Nature Rocks! Dream Center Family Club”

Oglebay’s Good Zoo, “’Nature: Get IN it’ Family Nature Play Club”

Phoenix Zoo, “Creating a Community of Nature Play-Get Outside and Play in Arizona!”

Pueblo Zoological Society, “Plant.Grow.Fly.Pueblo”

Queens Zoo/Wildlife Conservation Society, “Wild Inquiries Nature Club”

Reid Park Zoo, “Nature Play Days for Families”

Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, “Nurturing through Nature”

Roger Williams Park Zoo, “Urban Nature Explorers”

Saint Louis Zoo, “Saint Louis Zoo Family Nature Club”

Sequoia Park Zoo, “Family Nature Play at Sequoia Park Zoo”

Tennessee Aquarium, “Nurturing Our Next Nature Nuts”

The Wilds, “Nature Center, Play Space and Family Nature Club at the Wilds”

Tracy Aviary, “Nature in the City”

Utah's Hogle Zoo, “Utah's Hogle Zoo's Family Nature Club”

Virginia Living Museum, “Play Date with Nature!”

Western North Carolina Nature Center, “Play Like Animals with the WNC Nature Center”

Zoo Miami  - Zoological Society of Florida, “ZooNature Family Adventures at Zoo Miami”

The Nature Clubs Advisory Group, which served as the review committee for the Nature Play grants, is comprised of AZA members, AZA staff and Disney cast members, as well as partners from the Children & Nature Network.

AZA is committed to building lifelong conservation values in our nation’s youth. The Nature Play grants are an important part of a world-wide effort to connect families to nature, and AZA is developing additional resources for online and on-the-ground nature play experiences.

For additional information, please visit


About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and eight other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

About the Children & Nature Network

Since its founding in 2006, the Children & Nature Network has been advocating for children, their families and communities to enhance their health and well-being through direct experiences in nature. C&NN’s vision is a world in which all children play, learn and grow with nature in their everyday lives. The Children & Nature Network is leading the movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership. C&NN provides a wide range of user-friendly tools, including those to enhance positive family bonding and access to fun, friendly nature-based activities. To learn more, visit

About the North American Association for Environmental Education

For more than four decades, the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) has been a leader in promoting excellence in environmental education throughout North America. It is the only national membership organization dedicated to strengthening the field of environmental education. With members in more than 30 countries and Affiliate organizations in 54 states, provinces, and regions, NAAEE represents more than 16,000 members and supporters. NAAEE also operates the Natural Start Alliance—a network of parents, teachers, and organizations that are working to ensure that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers regularly play and learn in nature. To learn more, visit

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