Ancient Oaks Foundation: the organization that brings life to Lake Zurich


Photo by Photo used with permission of AOF.

Judi Thode, president of Ancient Oaks Foundation, pictured with the before and after of the Lake Zurich wetlands with work done by the Ancient Oaks Foundation (AOF) and volunteers.

A spring of flowers, a handmade boardwalk, and an array of wildlife, insects, and birds are just some examples of nature conservation that would not be present in LZ without the work of the Ancient Oaks Foundation.

Ten years ago, Judi Thode, president of the Ancient Oaks Foundation (AOF), began as a volunteer with others in the Village of Lake Zurich’s parks department. According to Thode, she and seven members of AOF, with the help of various other volunteers, have restored Lake Zurich’s open areas from invasive wetlands to beautiful, thriving hubs for wildlife. Essentially, this foundation is dedicated to the “preservation and restoration of Lake Zurich area’s oak woodlands and natural areas,” Thode said.

“Although the village owns this (Lake Zurich’s) property, it hasn’t necessarily paid it specialized attention,” Thode said. “Up until 2014 we did this just as a volunteer group, but then we decided to become an official nonprofit conservation organization.”

One of AOF’s projects includes the Oak Ridge Marsh Nature Park, a quiet preserve just north of May Whitney Elementary School and Breezewald Park. This beautiful 14-acre piece of land used to consist of primarily “forts and crack dens”, according to Thode.

“We requested the village to clear the buckthorn, which is a highly invasive species. We did it all as volunteers we all, by-hand, cleared all of this, which used to be nothing but a wall of buckthorn,” Thode said. “An oak tree is considered a keystone species and it’s depended upon by over 300 species. If that oak tree goes, they go too. We want to try and protect them as best we can.”

Not only does the AOF work to protect wildlife, but they also execute a large part of community education.

“The foundation’s goals are to restore and preserve natural areas by decreasing invasive species and reintroducing native vegetation, to educate the community on the care of natural areas, encourage community involvement, and to develop sustainable plans for the care of natural areas,” Thode said.

According to Thode, students from the school’s National Honor Society oftentimes volunteer for AOF during the springtime. Other upcoming volunteer workdays and events such as group birdwatching, stroller walks, and wildflower tours can be found on their website.

“People are now walking and biking its trails, bird watching, and just getting away from it all. It is truly a gem in the villages’ park system,” said Thode.