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About 60 percent of the participants in the annual Cooper River Bridge Run live outside of the area, making the annual spring event a major tourist draw. File/Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Charleston's Cooper River Bridge Run, which will hold its 42nd race this April, took home the top prize at this week's statewide tourism conference. 

The Mount Pleasant-to-Charleston event was this year's winner of the Governor's Cup, which goes to the top tourism event or initiative in South Carolina. 

The 10-kilometer run and walk brings tens of thousands of participants across the Ravenel Bridge every spring. An estimated 60 percent of them are from out-of-town. 

Over the bridge run's more than four decades, it has grown to become the third-largest 10-K event in the U.S., behind races in Atlanta and Boulder, Colo. 

For more than half of those races, starting in 1994, Charleston native Julian Smith has served as the event's director.

Over that time, participation swelled from about 7,400 finishers in his first year to almost 33,700 at its peak in 2006.

Last year, 27,414 people ran or walked the route from Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant through downtown Charleston for the 41st annual race

Smith announced in January that he was resigning. After undergoing surgery last year to remove a brain tumor, Smith has devoted time to encouraging others to be mindful of their health. 

In a statement about his resignation, the event's board described Smith as a "force of nature." 

Race day this year is Saturday, April 6. Mike Seekings, a Charleston city councilman and vice chairman of the bridge run's board of directors, is the interim director.

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Between the two-day Bridge Run Expo, a post-race festival and the swath of local bars, restaurants and hotels that hold special promotions, race day activities extend well beyond the 6.2-mile route. 

A kids run, a wheelchair competition and an official dining event called Taste of the Bridge Run are also part of the weekend festivities. 

In total, the run is estimated to have a $30 million impact annually. 

The first Bridge Run was held in 1978. For a fee of $3, hundreds of participants ran from Patriots Point to White Point Garden. No water was provided — an oversight which was remedied the next year.

The Governor's Cup is one of the top awards handed out annually at the Governor's Conference on Tourism and Travel at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center. Gov. Henry McMaster also honored Greenville Mayor Knox White and Beverly Shelley, director of sales and marketing at the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

The Charles A. Bundy Award, which recognizes destinations and tourism initiatives in rural parts of the state, went to York County's YoCo Brew Trail.

Reach Emily Williams at 843-937-5553. Follow her on Twitter @emilye_williams.

Emily Williams is a business reporter at The Post and Courier, covering tourism and employment. She also writes the Business Headlines newsletter, which is published twice a week. Before moving to Charleston, her byline appeared in The Boston Globe.