The Know's most read arts, entertainment and outdoor stories of 2020

Every year, we pull traffic data to see which stories were read the most, and every year, we’re pretty surprised by what Coloradans are most interested in.

This year, you can probably guess the subject matter people read about the most.

A lot of our most popular stories weren’t lengthy exposes or buzzy pieces about Casa Bonita or the forthcoming Meow Wolf Denver, they were brief explanations of how complicated COVID-19 regulations affected our everyday lives. The fact that so many people read those stories speaks to how frantic and confused we all felt amid the constantly changing guidelines.

But the numbers also show us something else: that this year, the outdoors became more important than ever. Without bars, restaurants, festivals, movie theaters or live music, trails and slopes became our only source of entertainment and normalcy. But they were also a source of comfort and healing, a place where we could go to shake off the cabin fever and take a break from endless doomscrolling. Unfortunately, that means they were also pretty crowded, which brought a new set of problems such as trail damage and vandalism.

RELATED: The year Colorado’s public lands became more important — and crowded — than ever before

These were The Know’s most popular stories from 2020, some heartwarming, some heartbreaking and some further proof that 2021 is totally gonna be the year we figure out how not to kill our pandemic plants.

10. Gardening myths that are either true, false or a little bit of both

With all our time at home these last few months, 2020 became the year when we finally gave our plants the attention they deserve. But the high desert isn’t exactly the easiest climate to grow in, so a lot of y’all had questions — many, many questions. Gardening stories were some of the most popular pieces we published this year, and that wasn’t exactly the case pre-pandemic.

The biggest traffic-getter: Betty Cahill’s guide to gardening myths. Do eggshells prevent blossom rot? Do soap sprays kill pests? Does talking to my plants actually help them grow? She tackled all that and more.

Our New Year’s resolution: making sure our 2020 houseplant additions live to grow another day.

9. Colorado distilleries switch to making hand sanitizer, and they’re giving it away free

In the early weeks of the pandemic, as we processed an endless stream of bad news day after day, we craved any and all stories about kindness and people helping people. And in those first couple months, when things like hand sanitizer were suddenly in drastically short supply, shuttered local distilleries stepped up to fill the need, often for free.

Spirit Hound in Lyons donated its hand sanitizer to the Lyons Fire Protection District, local businesses and a Lyons home healthcare nurse, who passed some along to healthcare nonprofits. The distiller also sold bottles at the tasting room for a suggested donation of $5.

“There’s a need in the community and I’m uniquely positioned to fill it,” Craig Engelhorn, Spirit Hound’s head distiller, said at the time. “Who else is going to do it? You can’t get it at the grocery store and it’s something I can do to feel useful. It’s hard to feel useful when all this is going on.”

Lift line apocalypse at Vail after a 17″ dump from r/skiing

8. WATCH: “Lift line apocalypse” at Vail following 31 inches of snow

One of our favorite pieces of pre-pandemic normalcy: Complaining about lift lines at Vail.

Back in February, a historic powder day meant hundreds of skiers and riders descended on Vail’s gondolas at once, creating lines that quickly went viral. A little over a month later, Gov. Jared Polis closed all ski areas due to the pandemic, effectively ending the Colorado ski season in mid-March.

7. Women are going topless in nature as part of growing trend across Colorado

One of our favorite hiking trends of 2020 was an unexpected one: upon finishing an epic hike, women were removing their shirts for a new take on the classic summit photo. Hikers who went topless said the act felt incredibly empowering.

“It feels fun, exciting and maybe a little risky to be naked in nature,” Kari Armstrong, co-organizer of The Boulder Hiker Chicks said at the time. “When you have worked hard for your hike, or even if you haven’t, it is fun to do something a little silly and liberating to celebrate.”

We see you, ladies, and we dig your enthusiasm. Some people saw the trend as a little weird or even offensive, but topless hiking photos are a pretty harmless way to cap off a great hike. And if even one person is reminded that there’s nothing offensive about the female body, then that sounds like a cool trend to us.

6. Denver Zoo faces “unthinkable” reality of no visitors, dwindling cash and 3,000 animals to feed

Like an art museum, the Denver Zoo had little choice this year but to maintain its valuable collection of public attractions after the city and state stay-at-home orders took effect in March. To not do so would mean jeopardizing its animals’ wellbeing and its reputation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), as well as the families, donors, staff and peers that admire the 124-year-old organization.

But after being closed to the public for nearly three months, the zoo has been honest about its financial struggles this year.

“It costs us about $100,000 per day to operate the zoo, and $1 million per month on animal care alone. Although we’re open and welcoming guests to the zoo each day, we’re still facing a significant deficit,” Bert Vescolani, president and CEO, told the Associated Press in December.

But worry not: The zoo has assured the public that animals are still being fed appropriately amid the funding deficit.

5. Starting Wednesday, you need a hunting or fishing license to hike in Colorado state wildlife areas

Back in June, hikers exploring Colorado’s designated state wildlife areas were required to have hunting or fishing licenses as a result of a new policy that went into effect that month.

There were two reasons for the new policy. The management of state wildlife areas is funded through the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses for the purpose of conserving habitats and wildlife-related recreation. State law requires Colorado Parks and Wildlife to separate its funding sources for both wildlife areas and state parks, which are funded by park passes.

The other reason was growing visitation numbers.

“We are seeing unprecedented use of our public spaces and our state wildlife areas that is affecting our wildlife in these areas,” said CPW spokesman Travis Duncan. “I don’t want to say I’m discouraging hiking, but I am encouraging folks to look up what the intended use of that property is.”

4. Vail Mountain offers apology, explanation for enormous lift lines last week

Remember that crazy lift line at Vail in February? Y’all also liked to read Vail’s apology for the lengthy waits.

Vail received 38 inches of snow in a 48-hour period, requiring “a herculean effort” by ski patrol, lift operations personnel and slope groomers to get the mountain open, according to Beth Howard, chief operating officer at Vail Mountain. It was among the top five snow events in the resort’s 58-year history, Howard said.

3. Denver restaurants that have closed permanently during the coronavirus pandemic

This was our least favorite running list of the year — and unfortunately, it was the list we had to update the most.

Back in May, we started the running list after seeing a large glut of restaurant closures due to pandemic stay-at-home orders and restrictions on indoor dining. Unfortunately, COVID-19 hastened the demise of many beloved Denver restaurants, including The Market at Larimer Square, [email protected], Old Major, Racines, Vesta, Local 46, Zaidy’s Deli and so many more.

It breaks our heart every time we add to it, but unfortunately, we anticipate this list to keep growing as the pandemic wears on. Throughout the year, restaurateurs wrote several desperate opinion pieces for The Denver Post, sharing their frustration and dismay at a lack of relief for the beleagured restaurant industry.

“… like so many, I’m on the brink of losing it all,” chef and restaurant owner Jennifer Jasinski wrote in December. “Help early on gave me hope, but so much more is needed to save independent restaurants that it’s hard to know where to start: federal aid for employers and employees, robust support from loyal patrons, innovative programs to get food to those in need, understanding and generous lenders and landlords, and fair and workable regulations and rules. Maybe, more importantly, consumers need to value our food systems, understand the cost of good ingredients and not just reach for the cheapest product.”

2. No, Denver, you cannot drive to the mountains to hike, ski or snowshoe during the stay-at-home order

A common refrain throughout the year was state officials asking us not to do various things — gather for holidays, travel, etc. — but stopping just shy of prohibiting them outright. It was basically the year of “Pretty please?,” which got confusing when trying to ascertain what exactly was still allowed under changing COVID-19 restrictions.

Excercise in all its forms — from taking walks in the neighborhood to jetting into the mountains to hit the trail — was incredibly important to readers this year, our traffic tells us, but it sometimes took days or weeks for official guidelines to be released.

Since we couldn’t hit the trail elsewhere, Denver’s urban trails got seriously packed. Luckily, the city set up several shared streets to allow for more distanced recreation, and some of those shared streets are sticking around at least into the new year.

1. Why you keep hearing howling at 8 p.m. across Denver

Our most-read story of 2020 is also our favorite bit of pandemic come-togetherness: when Denverites went to their backyards and balconies every night at 8 to howl, scream, bang pots and pans and otherwise show support for our hard-working first responders.

It only lasted a few weeks — the howling stopped around late April, despite recent calls for its return in Nextdoor and Facebook threads — but, man, was it really nice to scream into the void with all of you. Some nights, ours was really more of a sob than a howl, but it felt good to let it out together nonetheless.

“We can’t necessarily see the people we want to see or hug the people we want to hug,” said Shelsea Ochoa, one of the organizers behind Denver’s nightly howl, “but we can reach out to people through this.”

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