Local Spotlight: Phil Gigliotti – Guardian of the Niagara River

Phil Gigliotti and a giant snapping turtle he recently rescued crossing the Niagara Scenic Parkway


38-year-old Phil Gigliotti is a lifelong resident of Niagara Falls, NY who grew up on Cayuga Island. Today he is a husband and father, an avid sports fan,  and a collector and lover of nature. Over a decade ago, while living in an apartment on Buffalo Avenue, Phil experienced a brush with fate.

Says Phil, “I rented an apartment on the Cayuga Creek. One night I was woken up by what I thought was a bomb going off… but what really happened was that a huge tree crashed down into the creek, likely due to shoreline erosion. A few days later, while looking out my apartment window, I spotted a gray haired gentleman swimming in the water next to the fallen tree.”

That gentleman happened to be Reverend Cal Babcock. Phil remembers this meeting fondly, saying “After talking with him for a bit I learned that in his free time, Cal would head into the creek to clear fallen trees with his chainsaw so that paddlers could make their way through unimpeded. He was passionate about the creek and I found his pride in the creek contagious. For the next few summers I would help him cut and clear trees that were blocking the flow of the creek. At this time the city of Niagara Falls was not engaged in creek maintenance and this upset Cal.”

Phil Gigliotti (left) with Reverend Cal Babcock (right)


From this point on, Phil assisted Cal in his efforts to clean out the creek whenever his schedule would allow. Through Cal, Phil learned about a group called Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. He eagerly enrolled for the River Academy course, where he befriended his instructor and eventually competed in three ‘Adirondack 90 Miler’ canoe races with the Scajaquada Canoe Club in their 8 person war canoe.

Today, Phil is still actively cleaning the creek. “I try to get out onto the creek 3 or 4 times a year for cleanups,” says Phil, “I want to continue to do this to carry on Cal’s legacy and vision. He has unfortunately passed away, but I want to continue to carry the torch that he once lit. Befriending Cal all those years ago really changed the trajectory of my life and I’m forever grateful for that tree crashing down and having the chance to meet him.”

Phil is the father of twin toddlers. He works as head cider maker at BlackBird Cider Works. His love for Niagara Falls shines through at his work.

Phil’s creation “Cayuga Island Perry” featuring a map of Cayuga Island


He explains, “To show tribute to Niagara Falls, and my beloved Cayuga Island, I even made a Cayuga Island-themed pear cider featuring peach and strawberry. As it turns out, all of Cayuga Island once used to be a farm/orchard that specialized in peaches, pears and strawberries. I wanted to incorporate these flavors in a cider and even found an old map of Cayuga island from the 1800’s at the local history department of the Niagara Falls Library for the can/bottle label. It was a project of love and passion.”

Phil and some of the garbage he hauled out of Cayuga Creek


When he’s not making cider or spending time with his family, Phil still volunteers his time making our community a better place. He continued: “Cleaning the creek has taught me the value of serving our community, and giving a little time to make the city just a little cleaner and brighter is a small sacrifice to make.”

Phil added, “I guess in doing what I’m doing, by caring for the creek, maybe it will inspire others to do the same, just the way Cal Inspired me all those years ago…Niagara Falls is a beautiful place and with hope, perseverance, and open hearts, maybe one day this city can reach its full potential… But it will take all of us doing our part…”

Niagara Falls is a small community. Each one of us has the power to make a big impact and make our home a better place. Phil Gigliotti is living proof of that sentiment.

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