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Bethel is a city located in Bethel Census Area in the U.S. state of Alaska, 340 miles (540 km) west of Anchorage. According to 2005 Census Bureau estimates, the population of the city was 6,262.

Bethel is the largest community in western Alaska and the 9th largest municipality in the state. It lies inside the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, the largest wildlife refuge in the United States. It is an administrative and transportation hub for the 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Bethel is home to the premier mid-distance dogsled race, the Kuskokwim 300. The “K300” is considered by many of the world’s elite mushers to be the greatest sled-dog race in the world, even though other races receive more media attention. The K300 is so highly acclaimed because of the warmth and energy of the community volunteers, the dedication of the race’s sponsors, and the high prize purse. In the spring, traditional dancers from all over Alaska and the world gather for Cam-ai (pronounced Cha-Mai) Dance Festival.

Though the region is flat and generally treeless, local residents enjoy snowmachineing, skiing, bicycling, kayaking, caribou hunting, salmon fishing, and access to the surrounding 56 villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

History:

Bethel, at its original location, was a Yup’ik village called Mamterillermiut, meaning “Smokehouse People,” after the nearby fish smokehouse. It was an Alaska Commercial Company trading post during the late 1800s. It had a population of 41 people in the 1880 U.S. Census. The Moravian Church established a mission in the area in 1885, under the leadership of Rev. John Henry Kilbuck, Jr. Kilbuck learned Yup’ik, which greatly enhanced his effectiveness as a missionary. 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 also have a long Christian history, in part from Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Moravian influence. As in many Alaskan villages, Christian tradition has become interwoven with its cultural history.

On February 19, 1997, a school massacre attracted widespread media attention to Bethel when then-sixteen-year-old Evan Ramsey, a student at Bethel High School, shot and killed his principal and one student and wounded two others, for which he later received a 198-year prison sentence.

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