Fantasy became reality for many children as Venessa Lewis, “The Louisiana Mermaid,” propelled herself through North Park’s AQUA PARDS facility on June 9 using a mermaid tail.

“She’s real,” said Gemma Bertone, 7, who gripped an autographed photo of Lewis, a small starfish and a shell tightly in her hands after meeting the nationally recognized mermaid for the first time. Lewis handed out the treats to more than 100 children who waited patiently in the hot sun to talk with her, touch her tail and marvel over the legendary aquatic creature.

Lewis, who spent more than three hours at AQUA PARDS, has made only a few area appearances — all for free — since acquiring her custom-designed, silicon neoprene mermaid tail, which is fully functional in the water, she said. The costume was created by the same designer who created a mermaid tail for Lady Gaga and Flo Rida, Lewis said. Lewis has also garnered national attention for being The Louisiana Mermaid and often making appearances unannounced.

Gemma became intrigued with mermaids after watching the television show, H2O: Just Add Water, which tells the tale of three girls who live on the Australian Gold Coast and are suddenly transformed into super powered mermaids, her mother, Nicole Bertone said. For Gemma, the trip to North Park was a defining moment that solidified her hunch that mermaids are “real.”

“It feels real,” Jillian Allen, 5, said of Lewis’s tail. “It feels like someone caught her in a net.”

“It felt rubbery,” 9-year-old Katelyn Martina added.

Makenzie Averett said her dream came true when she saw Lewis. Makenzie, 6, said she’s always dreamed of becoming a mermaid and still couldn’t believe she got to meet one.

Mackenzie’s grandmother, Becky Moore, said Mackenzie has her own custom-designed mermaid costume which she uses to “swim in the tub.”

“She’s beautiful, and she’s really sweet,” Becky Moore said of Lewis after spending time talking with her. “She really went above and beyond for these kids.”

Lewis, a Denham Springs resident, said she’s always had an affinity for mermaids, and often wondered what it would be like to swim in a mermaid’s tail.

“I’ve always been that geeky kid that liked mermaids, fairies, and mythological characters,” the 36 year old said, adding that she’s been a swimmer her entire life.

When she became a parent, Lewis said she wanted to pass that magic on to her own children.

Lewis is now spreading the magic to other children, many of whom are fascinated by her mermaid tail and a special necklace she wears around her neck that she says “allows her to get her legs back.”

Lewis’ first appearance was at Spectrum Fitness in Denham Springs, a health club to which she belongs, and the rest — as they say — is history.

“People just loved it,” Lewis said. “Parents were taking pictures and the kids were just so happy.”

Lewis gained immediate attention through her Facebook page, which details where she will appear next.

“I’m just enjoying it,” Lewis said. “I’m glad I’m able to make people happy.”

While Lewis said she hopes to make appearances at more area venues, she hasn’t committed to doing birthday parties, something people have continuously requested, she said. With two children, Layden, 6; and Londynn, 1; the birthday parties would “take away from family time,” Lewis said.

Lewis said she hopes to work with the Louisiana Office of Tourism to promote Louisiana waterways and coastal preservation.

When she’s not in the water, Lewis is busy running her graphic design business, and is an adjunct professor at the Manship School of Journalism at LSU, she said.

“It was a nice surprise,” said PARDS Manager Paige Fredrick. “She’s definitely brought in a lot of kids.”

The park was so packed June 9, that the gates were about to close just after noon because the water park was at full capacity,” Fredrick said.

“I think it’s just a good experience for the kids,” Fredrick said. “At this age, fantasy is still important to them.”

“It’s not in Disney World. It’s right here at a local park,” Fredrick said.

To learn where Lewis may make her next splash, visit her at Facebook/LouisianaMermaid.

To view a photo gallery of her visit to North Park, click here.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Thursday, July 17, 2014, to correct the spelling of Gemma Bertone’s first name.