ASHEBORO, NC ­­— The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has bestowed a “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grant to the North Carolina Zoo for its Nature Rocks program. This is the third consecutive grant awarded to this program, which is a part of Kidzone’s nature play mission. 

Nature Rocks leads monthly nature hikes, camping events and, now, on-site Playful Pedagogy training for teachers and caregivers. The North Carolina Zoo works with community partners such as the Randolph County Partnership for Children, the Dream Center, the Growing Place, and the Asheboro Public Library to connect families to nature and to remove barriers to nature play. 

Supported by the Disney Conservation Fund, these competitive grants, selected through a rigorous review by a panel of industry experts, are presented to accredited zoos and aquariums to encourage family nature play and conservation education. The North Carolina Zoo is one of 30 grant recipients selected to receive a combined total of $230,000 in awards. 

“This grant is further evidence that Nature Rocks continues to, well, rock,” says Zoo Director Pat Simmons. “We’re grateful to AZA and the Children & Nature Network for again generously supporting the efforts of our great staff to put on this terrific program.”  

The Nature Play grant opportunity provides financial, logistical and creative support to increase or enhance family-centered nature experiences in local communities. This program is a partnership with the Children & Nature Network, building on its successful Family Nature Club initiative. 

“AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums play an important role in connecting children and families to nature,” says Amy Rutherford, Director of Professional Development & Public Engagement at AZA. “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.” 

About the North Carolina Zoo 

At the North Carolina Zoo, we celebrate nature. As the world’s largest natural habitat Zoo, we inspire a lifelong curiosity about animals for the hundreds of thousands of people who visit our Zoo each year. Our dedicated team of experts provides exceptional, compassionate care for the more than 1,600 animals and 52,000 plants that call our Park home. We also lead efforts locally and globally to protect wildlife and wild places because we believe nature’s diversity is critical for our collective future. The North Carolina Zoo invites all of our guests to witness the majesty of the wild in the heart of North Carolina and welcomes everyone to join in our mission to protect nature’s diversity. Visit to begin your life-changing journey. 

About the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources 

The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (NCDNCR) is the state agency with a vision to be the leader in using the state’s natural and cultural resources to build the social, cultural, educational and economic future of North Carolina. NCDNCR’s mission is to improve the quality of life in our state by creating opportunities to experience excellence in the arts, history, libraries and nature in North Carolina by stimulating learning, inspiring creativity, preserving the state’s history, conserving the state’s natural heritage, encouraging recreation and cultural tourism, and promoting economic development. 

NCDNCR includes 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, two science museums, three aquariums and Jennette’s Pier, 39 state parks and recreation areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the nation's first state-supported Symphony Orchestra, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, State Preservation Office and the Office of State Archaeology, along with the Division of Land and Water Stewardship. For more information, please call 919- 807-7300 or visit