With more state parks in its boundaries than anywhere else in California, the Santa Cruz district of the state Department of Parks and Recreation is serving as a testing grounds for a new public-reporting program that could soon spread across the state.

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News, the parks department already is struggling under $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance, according to the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for the hundreds of parks spread out across the state.

To help maintenance staff know where to focus their energy, the foundation last week launched the Park Observation Program, or POP. As part of that program, hikers, campers and beach-goers are being asked to photograph graffiti, eroded trails, felled trees and other maintenance issues they come across. They can upload .jpg and .gif files using a free mobile application, or downloaded them onto a computer and send them later. The images will be compiled and analyzed, then sent to the parks’ maintenance supervisors to help them prioritize.

“Something that’s blocking access to a trail head would have a priority, or something that’s dangerous,” said Jerry Emory, the foundation’s communications director.

Since the Santa Cruz district is the state’s largest, Felipe Jauregui, the Santa Cruz district’s park maintenance supervisor, offered it up as the test site. The pilot program is “open ended,” he said, but if all goes well, it will likely spread elsewhere.

POP is based on similar programs in Portland, Ore., San Francisco and areas on the East Coast, where residents are asked to take pictures of potholes and other maintenance issues, according to Emory and Jauregui.

The goal of the program is to ensure the parks remain safe and accessible. But it also “engages the public in the system, because they are state parks,” Emory added. “The public owns them, and they have the right to report these things — and compliment the staff as they see fit.”