The four-mile cycling and walking route from Harrogate to Ripley is one of the most popular of its kind in the region and is used by an estimated 200,000 people every year.
It opened in 2013, but even before then there has always been long-held hopes of extending the path by up to 23 miles through the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to Scar House Reservoir.
Now, council officials, campaigners and residents are set to come together to form a steering group which will oversee the next stages of the project, including route planning and further talks with landowners.
“It is great news and a really significant step that the steering group is about to be formed – this will really take the project forward in a positive direction,” said campaigner Malcolm Margolis who is spearheading the project.
“We want to get the steering group formed as soon as possible and get working together in autumn.
“We hope to bring together representatives of local parish councils, as well as Harrogate and North Yorkshire councils, and other interested parties who share our vision of a sustainable route through Nidderdale which will be accessible by bike on foot for people of all ages.”
The Nidderdale Greenway is part of the Sustrans cycling and walking network which covers 16,500 miles across the UK.
Sustrans, a national charity which lobbies for and helps build infrastructure, produced a feasibility study for the Nidderdale Greenway extension plans before the pandemic struck.
The preliminary works involved talks with more than 50 landowners along the proposed route which aims to follow disused railway lines or existing rights of way where possible.
Senior officials at North Yorkshire County Council will meet on Friday to agree to their involvement in the next stages of the project. They have signalled their strong support for the extension, although questions have been raised over an estimated costs figure of £6.6m which a report described as “light”.
Councillor Don Mackenzie, executive member for access at the county council, also said: “Experience teaches me that it is very easy to be optimistic about costs when it comes to things like this, but when you get down to actually looking at the detailed designs, costs can often escalate very quickly.”
He added: “I was excited when the Nidderdale Greenway was first created and if we can extend it right along to Pateley Bridge, then so much the better. It would represent a major extension of our cycling network which is to be welcomed.”
Mr Margolis said he hoped the route would be “substantially built” within the next five years and be funded by government grants and fundraising.
However, he added it was “far too early” to be focusing on the costs of the project.
“We haven’t even finalised the route yet,” he said. “Costs are obviously an extremely important factor, but not at this stage.
“The extension will be a big task and one that is more difficult than it should be – what it needs above all is political support.”