The future of Arizona’s state parks are at risk, a new audit says, and their long-term financial sustainability depends on expanded partnerships and marketing efforts.

According to The Republic, the Auditor General’s Office report, released Wednesday (Sept. 19), portrayed the parks system in dire need of funding. State funding have dropped to about $25.7 million last fiscal year from about $54.7 million in fiscal year 2008, the report said, because of the state’s budget deficit.

The audit also found that low and declining visitation was among the factors that pose long-term risks for the parks.

Auditors recommended the Arizona State Parks Board, which manages the state’s 30 parks, continue to expand partnerships with governments and organizations and create a new marketing campaign to showcase the parks. Auditors also said the board should study how the parks system can become more financially sustainable.

The 30 state parks cover a total of 62,000 acres, with 28 percent of the land owned by the state and 72 percent leased or under easement from federal and state entities. About 2 million people visited the state parks in fiscal year 2011, the report said.

The audit found:

• Arizona has one of the lowest number of park visits among western states and state parks compete with many national and local parks for visitors.

• The loss of state funding for park operations has created a need for the system to transition from being publicly funded to paying for its own operating expenses. Historically, park receipts have not covered operating expenditures–until recently.

The board has taken steps to increase revenues, including the addition of electrical hookups at campsites, an improved reservations system and a new fee schedule that charges lower fees to attract campers during the off-season and higher fees when sites are at a premium.