A 360-degree trail around Loch Ness for walkers, cyclists and horse riders could bring a huge economic boost to the Highlands.
Funding is likely to be secured within weeks for the last section of the route to connect Inverness to Fort Augustus on the south side of the loch, linking up to the Great Glen Way on the north side.
Visit Inverness Loch Ness recently gained planning permission for the final stretch between Glendoe and Loch Tarff.
The 6ft 6in-wide path will complete the South Loch Ness Trail.
Last night Highland Council’s leader Margaret Davidson claimed the route could have “huge economic potential,” not just for the area but the wider region, akin to the North Coast 500.
Ms Davidson confirmed there were plans for a spring launch and added: “By getting people out of their cars and on to their feet or bikes, we have got a fantastic chance to get them seeing Loch Ness and the rest of the Highlands.
“Slow down and see the Highlands is the message I want to get across. People love these long distance routes and stay longer in places because of them.
“Tourism is 10% of the Highland economy – it’s our biggest industry and we need to invest in it.” Ms Davidson admitted recent public funding cuts have made it difficult to invest in managing the trail and hopes that communities can also take more control, with talks due to start in the autumn.
The works on the final section of the route, which will cost in the region of £250,000, also include the crossing of various watercourses, fencing and ancillary works.
Some funding has already been secured, with the outcome of a final application expected within three months.
Once complete, the route will allow walkers to travel all of the way from Fort Augustus to Torbreck on the outskirts of Inverness.
Graeme Ambrose, chief executive of Visit Inverness Loch Ness, said the organisation have been working to finish the trail for the last four years.
He added: “We will create a 360 degree trail round Loch Ness which obviously opens up a considerable sized trail which people could spend several days doing. That, economically, could be huge for the area.”
At the moment, the South Loch Ness Trail stretches 28 miles from Torbreck on the edge of Inverness to Loch Tarff, approximately four miles from Fort Augustus.
Launched in 2011, the trail follows a mixture of minor roads, forest tracks and constructed trail.