Women’s History—Panola Mountain’s Park Manager Lesley Mobley Talks Women In Conservation

Out of Georgia’s 64 state parks and historic sites, 30 have women in management positions, including Mobley at Panola Mountain State Park.

This Women’s History Month marks 3 years at Panola Mountain State Park (PMSP) for Park Manager Lesley Mobley. And it doesn’t sound like she’s leaving anytime soon. “I love Panola Mountain because it’s a hidden gem within the metro area,” she said. “It’s a beautiful, unique ecosystem that few people are familiar with before they visit.”

Pristine Panola

Like Arabia Mountain, Panola is a monadnock—a solid rock mass that formed underground millions of years ago. Unlike Arabia, Panola Mountain was never industrially quarried because the stone was too fragile. This proved a blessing in disguise as Panola is the only of Metro Atlanta’s 3 monadnocks (Stone Mountain is the third) to have never been developed or industrialized (save some illicit moonshining in the early 20th century). This resulted in a National Natural Landmark designation in 1980. To maintain the pristine yet delicate environment on Panola, home to rare and threatened species such as the popular Diamorpha smallii and granite stonecrop, visitors must register for a tour with a park ranger.

Some of Panola’s untouched outcrop along with Stone Mountain just visible in the distance.

It’s Mobley’s job to protect this precious outcrop environment, one of the State Park system’s crown jewels. Her duties include (like any managerial position) a lot of paperwork but also a lot of time attending meetings with other parks, partner agencies (like the Heritage Area), and outside partners to work on projects and programming, like the Mountain’s annual Easter Egg-citing Scavenger Hunt March 29-31 or the Arabia Alliance’s Junior Ranger Day on April 27. In addition to the 100-acre granite peak similar to Arabia or Stone Mountains, the 1,600-acre state park has two lakes and offers fishing, birding, archery, tree climbing, bouldering, and more. Managing all this is no small task. 

Women In Park Service

Mobley rocking some PMSP gear.

Mobley has been with the state park service full-time since December 2015. Before that, she worked part-time as a Seasonal Naturalist at Vogel State Park. She’s long had a fascination with nature. “I grew up near Atlanta and my family didn’t do camping or hiking, but my dad used to pick me up from school and we would go fishing every afternoon,” recalled Mobley. “My parents grew up in the country and we visited my grandparents almost every weekend, so I spent a lot of time outdoors and decided that I was interested in ecology and environmental science at an early age.”

Although traditionally a male-dominated field, park service/management has been changing. “There are definitely more male managers, but women still make up a significant portion of the management of Georgia State Parks,” said Mobley. “Our current Director is Angie Johnson, and we have many women in our administration that help to lead the division.” Out of 64 Georgia state parks and historic sites, 30 have women in management positions. Panola Mountain has had several female Park Managers, including Jamie Madden, the manager preceding Lesley. “Every year we have more women joining parks who may one day become managers,” said Mobley.

Protecting A Mountain

In addition to Women’s History Month (and Mobley’s work anniversary), March also marks the annual diamorpha bloom. Panola Mountain’s untouched solution pits are pullulating with the little red succulents and their white blossoms. PMSP and Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve have planned several diamorpha hikes this year. However, the pebbly solution pits these little succulents grow in are quite fragile and can be easily impacted by humans not following simple Leave No Trace principles. (Remember to always Stay on the Gray!) Even though the hikes are popular, Mobley keeps the number limited to reduce peoples’ footprint during the busy bloom season. For her, the mountain’s preservation is first and foremost.

“I love that Panola is a conservation park that is primarily here to preserve the environment,” said Mobley. “There may not be a ton of amenities, but we have unique experiences to offer such as ranger-guided hikes to the summit and a July 4th hike that lets you watch fireworks from all over the metro Atlanta area from the top of Panola Mountain. If you’re looking for a quiet place to escape the hustle and bustle of Atlanta, Panola Mountain State Park is a great place to take a break in nature.”