Bethel, Alaska
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Bethel, Alaska
Bethel, Alaska


City of Bethel
Aerial view of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River
Aerial view of Bethel on the Kuskokwim River
Location of Bethel within the state of Alaska
Location of Bethel within the state of Alaska
Coordinates: 60°47?32?N 161°45?21?W / 60.79222°N 161.75583°W / 60.79222; -161.75583Coordinates: 60°47?32?N 161°45?21?W / 60.79222°N 161.75583°W / 60.79222; -161.75583
Country United States
State Alaska
Census AreaBethel
ANCSA regional corporationCalista
IncorporatedAugust 1957[1]
 o Type2nd Class City
 o MayorRichard Robb[2]
 o ManagerAnn Capela
 o State senatorLyman Hoffman (D-C)[3]
 o State rep.Tiffany Zulkosky (D)
 o Total50.11 sq mi (129.78 km2)
 o Land44.43 sq mi (115.06 km2)
 o Water5.68 sq mi (14.72 km2)
3 ft (1 m)
 o Total6,080
 o Estimate 
 o Density146.15/sq mi (56.43/km2)
 o Alaska Native
Time zoneUTC−9 (AKST)
 o Summer (DST)UTC−8 (AKDT)
ZIP code
Area code907
FIPS code02-06520
GNIS feature ID1398908

Bethel (Mamterilleq in Central Alaskan Yup'ik) is the largest community on the Kuskokwim River, located approximately 50 mi (80 km) upriver from where the river flows into Kuskokwim Bay. Bethel is the largest community in western Alaska and in the Unorganized Borough, as well as the ninth largest in the state, with a population of 6,080 as of the 2010 Census.[8]

Annual events in Bethel include the Kuskokwim 300, a dogsled race; Camai, a Yup'ik dance festival held each spring, and the Bethel Fair held in August.[9]


Southwestern Alaska has been the homelands of Yup'ik peoples and their ancestors for thousands of years. The residents of what became Bethel were called the Mamterillermiut, meaning "Smokehouse People", after their nearby fish smokehouse.[10] In the late 19th century, the Alaska Commercial Company established a trading post in the town, called Mumtrekhlogamute, which had a population of 41 people by the 1880 US Census.[10]

In 1885, the Moravian Church established a mission in the area under the leadership of Rev. William Weinland and Caroline (born Yost) [11] and John Henry Kilbuck, Jr., a Lenape, and his wife Edith, a daughter and granddaughter of Moravian missionaries in Kansas.[] They both learned Yup'ik, which greatly enhanced their effectiveness as missionaries.[] He made Yup'ik the language of the Moravian Church in the community and region, and helped translate scripture into the people's language.[] The missionaries moved Bethel from Mamterillermiut to its present location on the west side of the Kuskokwim River. A United States post office was opened in 1905.[]

Alaska Natives in this area have had a long Christian history, in part from Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Moravian influence. As in many Alaska Native villages, Christian tradition has become interwoven with the people's original culture.[]

Development came to the area during and after World War II, causing a great social disruption among the Alaska Natives.[]

In 1971, Bethel established a community radio station KYUK, which has been a strong influence in the redevelopment and revival of Yup'ik culture and self-definition.[12] It was the first Native-owned and operated radio station in the US.[13] Similar stations were soon started in Kotzebue, and by 1990, there were 10 stations in communities of fewer than 3,500 people.[12]

On February 19, 1997, a school shooting attracted widespread media attention to Bethel when 16-year-old Evan Ramsey, a student at Bethel Regional High School, shot and killed his principal and one student and wounded two others, for which he later received a 210-year prison sentence.[14]

In 2009, Bethel opted out of status as a "Local Option" community, theoretically opening the door to allowing alcohol sales in the city; residents and city officials maintained that all liquor license requests would be actively opposed.[15] In October 2015, though, a vote for allowing alcohol sales in Bethel passed and two liquor licenses were approved for existing stores in the city.

On November 3, 2015, the Kilbuck building housing both the Ayaprun Elitnaurviat Yup'ik immersion school and the Kuskokwim Learning Academy caught fire, destroying the immersion school and damaging the boarding school.[16] Fire fighters demolished part of the building in an effort to save a media center containing Yup'ik artifacts and elder interviews.[17][18]


Bethel is located at 60°47?32?N 161°45?21?W / 60.79222°N 161.75583°W / 60.79222; -161.75583 (60.792222, -161.755833).[19] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 48.7 square miles (126.1 km2), of which 43.2 square miles (111.8 km2) is land and 5.5 square miles (14.3 km2), or 11.34%, is water.[8]

Though the region is flat and generally treeless, Bethel lies inside the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, the second largest wildlife refuge in the United States.


Bethel has a subarctic climate (Köppen Dfc), with long, somewhat snowy, and moderately cold winters, and short, mild summers. Normal monthly mean temperatures range from 6.6 °F (-14.1 °C) in January to 56.1 °F (13.4 °C) in July, with an annual mean of 30.7 °F (-0.7 °C). Warm days of above 70 °F (21 °C) can be expected on 14 days per summer.[20] Precipitation is both most frequent and greatest during the summer months, averaging 18.5 inches (470 mm) per year. Snowfall usually falls in light bouts, and is actually greater in November and December (before the sea freezes) than in January and February, averaging 45 inches (114 cm) a season. Extreme temperatures have ranged from -52 °F (-47 °C) on January 18–19 and 25, 1947 up to 90 °F (32 °C) on June 17, 1926.[20]

Climate data for Bethel, Alaska (1981-2010 normals,[21] extremes 1923-present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 49
Mean maximum °F (°C) 37.2
Average high °F (°C) 12.4
Average low °F (°C) 0.8
Mean minimum °F (°C) -25.1
Record low °F (°C) -52
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.78
Average snowfall inches (cm) 9.6
trace 0
Average precipitation days 9.1 7.7 8.2 9.1 11.5 13.2 15.5 18.0 17.8 12.8 12.6 10.6 146.1
Average snowy days 9.4 8.0 8.8 7.2 2.7 0.1 0 0 0.6 5.8 11.5 10.5 64.6
Source: NOAA[20][22]


The first settlement at the location of Bethel reported on the 1880 U.S. Census as "Mumtrekhlagamute Station."[24] It had 29 Inuit. 1/2 mile away was the adjacent Mumtrekhlagamute Village (1880 population: 41 (all Inuit); 1890 population (as Mumtrekhlagamiut) was 33 (28 Inuit and 5 Whites).[25] Bethel was established at Mumtrekhlagamute Station in 1885 and supplanted it by the 1890 U.S. Census. It reported 20 residents (13 Natives and 7 Whites). Mumtrekhlagamiut would later be absorbed into Bethel.[26] Bethel did not appear on the 1900 Census, but has on every census since 1910.[27] It would formally incorporate as a city in 1957.

As of the census of 2000,[28] there were 5,471 people, 1,741 households, and 1,190 families residing in the city. The population density was 125.0 people per square mile (48.3/km²). There were 1,990 housing units at an average density of 45.5 per square mile (17.6/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 26.83% White, 0.93% Black or African American, 61.78% Native American, 2.87% Asian, 0.16% Pacific Islander, 0.51% from other races, and 6.91% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 1.70% of the population.

There were 1,741 households out of which 44.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.6% were married couples living together, 15.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.7% were non-families. 24.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 3.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.00 and the average family size was 3.65.

The age distribution was 35.5% under 18, 9.0% from 18 to 24, 32.7% from 25 to 44, 18.9% from 45 to 64, and 3.9% who were 65 or older. The median age was 29 years. For every 100 females, there were 110.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 109.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $57,321, and the median income for a family was $62,431. Males had a median income of $45,321 versus $39,010 for females. The per capita income for the city is $20,267. About 10.6% of the families and 11.2% of the population were below the poverty line, including 9.7% of those under the age of 18 and 18.3% of those ages 64 and over.

Transportation and economy

The state-owned Bethel Airport is the regional transportation hub, and is served by four passenger carriers, including Alaska Airlines, Ravn Alaska, Grant Aviation, and Renfro's Alaskan Adventure. It also receives service from three major cargo operators: Everts Air Cargo, Northern Air Cargo, Lynden Air Cargo, and numerous small air taxi services. The airport ranks third in the state for total number of flights. It offers a 6,400 foot asphalt runway, a 4,000 foot asphalt runway, and 1,850 foot gravel crosswind runway, and is currently undergoing a $7 million renovation and expansion. Three float plane bases are nearby: Hangar Lake, H Marker Lake, and the Kuskokwim River.

The Port of Bethel is the northernmost medium-draft port in the United States. River travel is the primary means of local transportation in the summer. A Bethel-based barge service provides goods to Kuskokwim villages.

Within Bethel are approximately 16 miles (26 km) of roads that are not connected to any contiguous highway system. Winter ice roads lead to several nearby villages, but their condition varies depending on temperature and snowfall. An extensive network of snow machine trails connects Bethel to villages all over the Delta, from the Bering Sea to the Yukon.

The town's single paved road, about 10 miles, supports a taxicab industry. With 93 taxi drivers, the town has more cab drivers per capita than any other city in the US. Most local cab drivers are Albanian or South Korean immigrants.[29]

Bethel is home to the lone detention center in southwestern Alaska, the Yukon Kuskokwim Correction Center.[30] This prison has a capacity of 207 inmates, men and women, and a staff of 45.[31]

Bethel is also the site of a proposed major Alaskan coal-fired power station and a unique 8.5-mile (13.7 km) prototype single-wire earth return electrical intertie to Napakiak, Alaska, constructed in 1981.[32]


Lower Kuskokwim School District operates five schools in Bethel:

  • Gladys Jung Elementary School - Bethel
    • Jung, previously known as the Kilbuck School, serves grades 3-6. As of 2018 its enrollment is about 345.[33]
  • Mekelnguut Elitnauriviat School - Bethel
    • Nicknamed the "M.E. School," it serves grades Kindergarten through 2. As of 2018 it has 260 students and 18 teachers.[34]
  • Ayaprun Elitnaurvik School - Bethel
    • It is a K-6 Yup'ik-English bilingual program that originated from a total immersion language program established in 1995. As of 2002 the school had 197 students. The school occupies space in Mekelnguut Elitnauriviat and Gladys Jung schools; As of 2002 grades Kindergarten through 1 are in the former and the remainder are in the latter.[35]
  • Bethel Regional High School - Bethel
    • Known locally as "Bethel High School", it serves grades 7-12. As of 2019 there are approximately 540 students enrolled, and 34 staff members. [36]
  • Kuskokwim Learning Academy (alternative)

Other institutions:

Sports and recreation

Bethel is home to a noted mid-distance dogsled race, the Kuskokwim 300. Held every January since 1980, the race commemorates an early mail route that once tied the settlement to the outside world. Top mushers and hundreds of sled dogs participate in the race for a purse of $100,000, the largest offered by any 300-mile (480 km) sled dog race.[37]

Local recreational activities include snow machining, skiing, bicycling, kayaking, caribou hunting, and salmon fishing.

Bethel is an established starting point to Float Alaska wilderness rivers in the Kisaralik, Kwethluk, Aniak, Kanektok, Arolik, Goodnews, Eek and Holitna River systems.

Arts and culture

Traditional dancers from all over Alaska and beyond participate every March in the Cama-i dance festival. Hundreds of costumed dancers, drummers, and singers perform traditional Yup'ik story dances during the three-day festival, sponsored by the Bethel Council on the Arts. "Cama-i" (pronounced Cha-Mai) translates as "a warm hello."[38]

The Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center also hosts a bimonthly "Saturday Market" where artisans and crafters from the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta come to sell their crafts. There is a variety at the market, but many of the crafts include traditional Yup'ik qaspeq, story knives, woven baskets, ulu knives and more.

Health care

Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital in Bethel, Alaska

Bethel and the smaller communities surrounding it are primarily served by Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Hospital, a 50-bed general acute care medical facility. Services located in the hospital include an adult medical-surgical ward, a pediatric ward, an obstetric ward, as well as outpatient family medicine clinics, an emergency room, pharmacy, lab, X-ray, and specialty clinics. The facility is accessible by road for those individuals living in or visiting the city of Bethel. Depending on weather and the season, road access to the hospital may also be available to some of the surrounding communities. If not, individuals must be airlifted into the facility via helicopter or air ambulance. Also, there are five sub-regional primary care clinics located in some of the more remote and less populated cities neighboring Bethel (Emmonak, St. Mary's, Aniak, Toksook Bay, and Hooper Bay). Many of the services found at the hospital in Bethel are also available at these sub-regional clinics, such as urgent care, diagnostic review, physical exams, prenatal care, minor surgery, laboratory tests, X-rays, and distribution of medications. The hospital, sub-regional clinics, and additional village clinics are all part of Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation.[39][40]


Bethel has a public television station, KYUK-LD, and three radio stations, public KYUK, private, non-profit KYKD, and commercial KEDI. Since the founding of its community radio station in 1970, the media has become part of Yup'ik development in southwest Alaska and important to the people's self-definition.[12] The city is also home to the weekly regional newspapers Delta Discovery and Tundra Drums.

Sister cities

Bethel has one official sister city.

Notable People


  1. ^ 1996 Alaska Municipal Officials Directory. Juneau: Alaska Municipal League/Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs. January 1996. p. 32.
  2. ^ 2015 Alaska Municipal Officials Directory. Juneau: Alaska Municipal League. 2015. p. 37.
  3. ^ "Senator Lyman Hoffman". Alaska Senate Majority. Retrieved 2019.
  4. ^ City of Bethel. (2006-10-27). "Bethel City Council Member List." Retrieved on 2007-04-13.
  5. ^ Community Information Summaries: Bethel. Archived 2007-04-02 at the Wayback Machine Alaska Community Database Online, Alaska Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development. Retrieved on 2007-04-13.
  6. ^ "2018 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2019.
  7. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". Retrieved 2019.
  8. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Bethel city, Alaska". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved 2013.
  9. ^ Archived 2015-12-22 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ a b Orth, Donald J. (1971). Dictionary of Alaska Place Names (2nd ed.). USGS. p. 128. ISBN 978-0944780022.
  11. ^ (Weinland family history
  12. ^ a b c Patrick Daley and Beverly James, "Warming the Arctic Air: Cultural Politics and Alaska Native Radio", The Public, Vol. 15:2, 1998, accessed 6 December 2011
  13. ^ "Radio". Bethel, Alaska: Bethel Broadcasting. 2010-02-26. Archived from the original on 2010-02-20. Retrieved .
  14. ^ Avila, Jim; Holding, Reynolds; Whitcraft, Teri; Tribolet, Beth. "School Shooter: 'I Didn't Realize' They Would Die". ABC News. June 11, 2008. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  15. ^ "Election Results". City of Bethel. 2009-10-06. Retrieved .
  16. ^ Demer, Lisa (3 November 2015). "Video: Kilbuck school building burns in Bethel". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved 2015.
  17. ^ "Fire tears through Bethel school building". Alaska Dispatch News. 3 November 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  18. ^ "Fire engulfs Bethel school". Alaska Public Radio Network. 3 November 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  19. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved .
  20. ^ a b c "NOWData - NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved .
  21. ^ Mean monthly maxima and minima (i.e. the highest and lowest temperature readings during an entire month or year) calculated based on data at said location from 1981 to 2010.
  22. ^ "Station Name: AK BETHEL AIRPORT". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved .
  23. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Archived from the original on April 26, 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^'Agaligamute'&source=bl&ots=Tzy-F6Dup7&sig=B81GmrTlcKv3jtL_iWMYTwV3FSo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj69sDB-MLUAhXD2T4KHTt1Dc0Q6AEILjAD#v=snippet&q=bethel&f=false
  27. ^
  28. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2013-09-11. Retrieved .
  29. ^ Tizon, Tomas Alex (2007-11-30). "America's Taxi Capital: Bethel, Alaska". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved .
  30. ^ Alaska Dept of Corrections Archived 2010-01-13 at the Wayback Machine
  31. ^ "Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center". Alaska Department of Corrections. 2015. Retrieved .
  32. ^ Bettine, Frank (September 2002). "SWGR Transmission" (PDF). University of Alaska. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 29, 2008. Retrieved 2011.
  33. ^ "Gladys Jung Elementary School." Gladys Jung Elementary School. Retrieved on July 13, 2018.
  34. ^ "Welcome to M.E. School!" Mekelnguut Elitnauriviat School. Retrieved on July 13, 2018.
  35. ^ "Ayaprun Elitnaurvik." Ayaprun Elitnaurvik. Retrieved on July 13, 2018.
  36. ^ "Bethel Regional High School." Bethel Regional High School. Retrieved on September 06, 2019.
  37. ^ "Kuskokwim 300". Retrieved .
  38. ^ Bethel Council on the Arts (2011). "Cama=i Dance Festival". Bethel, Alaska. Retrieved .
  39. ^ "Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation - Medical Facilities". Archived from the original on 28 October 2014. Retrieved 2014.
  40. ^ "Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation - Service Area Map" (PDF). Retrieved 2014.
  41. ^ "Wayback Machine" (PDF). 12 August 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 August 2011. Retrieved 2018.

External links

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