Big Horn Cove on Lake Ida near Alexandria gets a newer, bigger storm shelter
With poured concrete, reinforced with rebar, ventilation and generator powered, the new shelter was built to keep 100 people safe during dangerous weather.
ALEXANDRIA — Big Horn Cove Association, an RV park on the north side of Lake Ida, installed a reinforced storm shelter that can fit up to 100 adults after last year's destructive tornadoes that left parts of Alexandria and most of Forada in pieces.
The handicapped-accessible shelter sits on poured concrete, is reinforced with rebar, has ventilation and is powered by a generator.
"Anytime you have a number of folks staying in RVs or camping in tents or any structure that is vulnerable, you need to have a secure and worthy structure to take shelter in to save your life," said Douglas County Emergency Management/Public Information Officer, Julie Anderson. "The one that has been built on Lake Ida is a very good example of a safe structure."
Anderson says that there are no state regulations for campgrounds, resorts or RV parks to have shelters. They just need to have a plan in place when dangerous weather happens.
"That is why we are so excited about the storm shelter out at Big Horn Cove Association because they took it upon themselves to get the money to build it," Anderson said.
She added that she hopes no one will wait for regulations or rules. That they will see what Big Horn Cove Association has done and follow suit.
"As emergency manager here in Douglas County, we did see what happened last summer and I think the one reason we didn't have a much higher injury and fatality rate is that thankfully a lot of our visitors left earlier on," said Anderson. "They heeded the warnings of the National Weather Service. They were not in their campers or at a resort unfamiliar with where the shelter or the plan might be. We were fortunate in that respect."
Before the new shelter, Big Horn Cove Association's bylaws delegated the basement of the RV park's owners, Jim and Karol Callfas, to be the designated storm shelter for the park's guests.
"It wasn't very big and it was not handicapped accessible," said Blaine Kalahar, president/vice president of the association on why the new shelter was needed. "We've been very lucky that we have not been hit by a tornado. Last year, I was there when the tornado flattened Forada... It was just time (to get a new shelter).
Kalahar said the association started looking into establishing a new shelter around 2004 through a FEMA grant but could never "get the stars to align" so the plan came to a halt.
After Kalahar became vice president in 2020 (then president after nobody ran in the association's last election, which automatically put Kalahar in the position) he was determined to finally get a new shelter. Then last August, the Callfases said they would donate the last vacant lot, which they owned, to use for the location of the shelter in exchange for the removal of the bylaw that says their basement is the designated shelter
Kalahar originally set out to purchase a pre-built shelter but what he found only accommodated 44 people and cost nearly $68,000. He wanted a shelter that could house at least 100 adults or a combination of 120 adults and children. He calculated that is how many guests would be at the park on its busiest days — Fourth of July weekend.
"I didn't want to be out there (during severe weather) telling people they can't come in," Kalahar said.
Instead of buying one pre-built, Kalahr acquired a construction loan for $47,000, paid Creative Concrete and Masonry Inc. in Nelson to pour the foundation, and did the rest with help from other association members.
"It's weather tight and ready... We will be safe going into the future," Kalahar said.