The year 2020 will forever be linked around the world with COVID-19. A year ago, most of us didn’t know what that combination of letters and numbers referred to.

Now, it’s part of our vernacular, though we’d much rather forget it.

COVID-19 changed society around the world, killing more than a million people and affecting almost every aspect of life from how we work to how we socialize.

The Lake Gaston area avoided becoming a hot spot for infections in 2020 but area businesses, especially restaurants, have had to reform their modes of operation to adapt to Virginia and North Carolina restrictions.

And there have been reports that many lake homeowners, previously part-timers, have flocked to the lake to escape larger cities. The lake has attracted new homeowners for the same reason and the upward-trending real estate market reports bear that out.

Lake Gaston, at least temporarily, has become a refuge of sorts.

There’s no question that COVID-19 was THE story of the year, everywhere, but we’d rather not give it any further distinction in this space.

So here are the Gazette-Observer’s top five other stories of the year...

5. Naked and afraid: You may have forgotten about this one. Part-time Lake Gaston resident Frank “Wesley” Harper appeared on the Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” in the summer for the second time.

The show challenges participants to survive in extreme remote locales - uh - without any clothes on.

The Gazette-Observer story chronicling Harper’s experience was one of the most popular articles of the year on lakegastongazette-observer.com.

The Naked and Afraid story. Plus the 2020 follow-up

4. New businesses: More than a few businesses either started or announced their impending arrival to Lake Gaston this year. The Gazette-Observer wrote about the 903 Race-in in Ebony (still not open), Artists of Elements, Steve’s Sno Kone Kups, Lake Fabrics, the Meat-Up Spot, and Jenny Cakes at the Lake Bakery (coming 2021).

The Landings of Lake Gaston Assisted Living is the most prominent arrival, having completed construction in Littleton this year and drawing plenty of buzz in the community.

The 27,444 square-foot facility with 63 beds should become a signature part of the area for years to come.

3. The hotel project: If nothing else, this became one of the most divisive topics of the year around the lake. Are you for or against Chateau on the Lake? Many lake residents voiced their displeasure in public forums.

If the project goes through as desired, Lake Gaston would become home to a five-story hotel on Eaton Ferry Road, among other proposed development including townhomes, senior living and medical care. We all know this by now. But the project made little public progress in the last six months.

Long-lingering questions about Chateau’s viability, delayed their answers partly due to effects of the aforementioned virus, will have to be addressed in 2021.

2. Burgeoning Littleton: This has been an important story even up until the final days of the year, including our last edition. Downtown Littleton and the nearby Lakeland Cultural Arts Center are undergoing transformative development.

Lakeland Theatre was already a cornerstone of the local community. If all goes as planned, the theater and the campus surrounding it will have an impact to be felt on a regional level with a refurbished theatre and new amphitheater in its arsenal.

A new gym, school and hotel are also on the horizon, joining Daphne’s Coffee Shop, Main Street Wines and Blue Jay Bistro.

We’re not in Kansas anymore.

1. Baird’s big catch: This is a lake newspaper, after all. What could be bigger news on the lake than a state-record catfish haul?

Joey Baird being a Brunswick County, Va. native made his 121-pound, 9-ounce Fourth of July weekend catch on the North Carolina side of the lake even more noteworthy.

He then donated his winnings for the catch to his Gasburg Volunteer Fire Department. You probably know the story by now.

When Baird’s blue cat was confirmed as the new state record three weeks after the catch, the accompanying story eventually became the most-viewed article of the year on the Gazette-Observer web site.

Take that, virus.