Early morning users of Riverbank State Park woke up to a locked gate on Monday as new hours at the park went into effect. Riverbank, which was previously open from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., is now open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The scale back on hours comes as a result of Albany cutting budgets on all state parks.

Along with the shaving of operation hours, the park has also eliminated all activities, including over 75 senior programs and over 145 aquatic, athletic and cultural classes for people of all ages.

The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced in February that 57 state parks and historic sites would feel the pinch of the 2010-11 budget. The cut is one of many across the state to close the $8.2 billion deficit.

Riverbank State Park is the third most visited park in the state after Niagara Falls and Jones Beach and sees over 1 million visitors.

Dozens of people gathered on Monday morning to protest the new hours. Many seniors use the park on a daily basis and will now have to go to other sites to participate in activities.

“A lot of people expecting to carry out their activities didn’t know the park was closed,” said Elizabeth Brett of the group New Yorkers to Save Riverbank. “What kind of message are they sending? There are no existing programs at Riverbank and right now registration is canceled.”

According to New Yorkers to Save Riverbank, park workers are being transferred with pay to other parks, including East River Park and Clay Pit Ponds. The organization said that with workers being transferred, there are no real savings.

“I’m a person who likes to do things early in the morning and I can’t do the swimming anymore,” said resident Mani Gilyard, who uses the park five days a week. “It’s difficult to move your schedule around to accommodate the other things.”

The cutting of hours and programs is also raising concerns about the massive number of young people who use the park and participate in activities and sports programs. Many say that with the elimination of summer camps, youth will have no alternative this summer while school isn’t in session.

Jamie Watts said she participates in Riverbank’s dancing and swimming classes. She said that the park is not only a lifesaver for elderly people to stay fit, but also saves the lives of young people.

She said, “Kids are going to be in the street this summer. They want us to go downtown and it’s just sickening and upsetting. I think it’s just wrong. We seniors like to go early and we like to be out by the time the kids come. It’s not fair to the seniors.”

Completed in 1993, the North River Water Pollution Control Plant was built where the park sits, despite strong protest from residents. As an agreement to allow the sewage plant to stay, Riverbank State Park was built over the sewage plant.

Gov. David Paterson has said that state lawmakers are making cuts to all services across the state and that parks are no exception. He added that the cuts are important on the road to the state’s “fiscal recovery.”