The community of Kwethluk is one of the oldest known communities in Alaska; archaeological digs indicate the area was inhabited during prehistoric times. Kwethluk sits at the confluence of the Kuskokwim River and the Kwethluk River, about 12 air miles east of Bethel. Kwethluk is derived from the Yup’ik word Kuiggluk meaning “dangerous river,” due to the ever-changing nature of the river channels.
The Kwethluk River has always been an integral part of life in the community. In the early 1910’s, gold was discovered in the upper Kwethluk River and prospectors settled in the area and mined the deposit until World War II. There is also a wealth of salmon in the river, several species spawn in the river each year and the area is becoming increasingly popular for fly-fishers looking to catch and release rainbow trout.
Subsistence is a very important part of the community of nearly 800. By the 1940’s, the village residents of Kwethluk owned 31,000 reindeer that they harvested for food and hide. The community is predominantly Yup’ik Eskimo and many still practice a subsistence lifestyle. A large percentage of the community’s residents hold commercial fishing permits. Kwethluk has strong religious ties. In the late 1860’s, Russian Orthodox missionaries from Russian Mission founded a small congregation and a chapel was built in 1912. In addition, the Moravian Church built a chapel in 1896 and operated a Moravian orphanage between 1930 and 1970. A community post office was built in 1947 and the first store was constructed the following year. Kwethluk was incorporated as a secondclass city in 1975.
Kwethluk is the second largest community along the Lower Kuskokwim River and its residents depend on air transportation for year-round freight and passenger service. A gravel airstrip and seaplane base are located in Kwethluk and barge services deliver cargo during the summer months. ATVs and skiffs are used during the summer months and snow machines are used during the winter when the river becomes a popular ice road. Snowfall averages 50 inches a year, with temperatures dropping to a winter average of between -2 to 19 °F. Summer temperatures average between 42 to 62 °F.