SALADO, Texas — Tourists near and far come to visit the small town of Salado for weekend getaways, historic lodgings, bed and breakfasts and even to hear a tale dear to the hearts of local residents.

It’s hard to miss Sirena the Indian Mermaid crying next to the Salado Creek.

Her story has drawn thousands to the area and has an economic impact on the town.

“Salado is a great community. its located right here on I-35 between Austin and Waco,” sculptor Troy Kelly said.

“When I was a little boy, my grandmother told me the legend of Sirena," he said. "I remember the story because I was so fascinated with it, and I would ask her to tell me it over and over again."

Kelly sculpted the life-size bronze sculpture of Sirena and dedicated it to Salado in 1986. He said he wanted to pass down the same story his grandmother once told him.

“Sirena is an Indian maiden, and she spotted a brave that she wanted to marry, but he wouldn’t pay any attention to her,” Kelly said.

Legend has it that as Sirena looked at her reflection in the water, she wished for the brave to marry her out loud. A magical catfish told Sirena he’d cast a spell on the brave so the brave would marry her. 

However, like in most fairy tales, this spell wasn't exactly straightforward. 

She had to agree to become a mermaid on the full moon for a year, and if human eyes ever saw her, she’d be stuck in that form forever.

“So, her brave came down, saw her in the moon light trying to pull a hook from her fin. The catfish pulled her back in the water and she became a mermaid forever," Kelly said. 

Tiffany Schriener loved the story so much, she founded the Sirena Fest and Mermaid Parade to honor the legend and bring locals together.

“It’s mermaid magic galore,” Schriener said.

Every October, the festival aims to encourage children to think outside the box and fulfill their wild and imaginative dreams.

“We have people from all over Central Texas come. Last year, we had mermaids from New York. It’s state wide and beyond,” said Schriener.

Salado resident Jackie Mills wrote books about the tale Kelly's grandmother told. In 2018, the town named a park after Sirena.

“I think that her legend and her spirit tends to spark the imagination. and what is life without our imagination,” said Schriener.

Kelly never imagined his grandmother's story telling would have such a magical impact on what he calls a magical little town.

“It’s really a unique small community, and I hope it stays like this forever,” Kelly said.

Kelly also created Locks of Love at Sirena Park. Right next to the Sirena monument there are two limestone columns linked with chains, where people can buy heart shaped locks and have it engraved with their initials and attach it to the chain. 

Kelly said most people go there to restate their vows and confess their love to one another.