Edward M. Norton Jr., president of the Grand Canyon Trust, was the general in the battle to limit low-level sightseeing flights in the Grand Canyon.

"I don't believe that helicopters have any place in a national park," Norton said. "They just don't. They are incompatible with what makes a park special."Norton called out the troops across the country to lobby Congress. In the end, Congress agreed with the trust and sharply restricted canyon overflights. Today aircraft must keep out of certain "flight-free zones" and are not permitted below the rim.

That was just one of the issues on the great Colorado Plateau that interests one of the nation's newest environmental groups. Trust members also think the damage to the Grand Canyon caused by the present operation of Glen Canyon Dam is incompatible with a national park. The trust wants to reduce the rapid fluctuations of water releases, causing less damage to the Colorado River canyon down-stream.

Art Gallenson of Lake Mead Air, whose Boulder City, Nev., company flies passengers over the Grand Canyon, thinks the Grand Canyon Trust is selfish.

Overflights were severely restricted as of Nov. 1, largely through the trust's efforts.

Gallenson said the Interior Department had already come up with two flight-free zones at the canyon, when the "Grand Canyon Trust went in under threat of lawsuit, and added another large flight-free zone."

The third zone essentially restricted flying from the area in front of the Grand Canyon's South Rim Village to Tuweep Ranger Station on the North Rim, he said.

"The point is they increased this no-flight zone by about 30 percent," Gallen-son said, noting that aircraft over the canyon are jammed into a corridor two miles wide. Flights are also banned from below 10,000 feet - near the upper limit for some small planes.

"Now we've squoze all the traffic essentially within a thousand feet from one another, and the corridor's two miles wide. In retrospect, one of the areas that's been set aside (for no planes) had two registered hikers all year, and that area's 40 miles long."

But Alan Stephen, president of Scenic Airlines, Las Vegas - at 300,000 passengers per year the largest air tour company flying over the canyon _ said he and Norton developed a rapport. He found he could be candid with Norton, and they actually visited federal agencies and congressmen together on the overflightissue.

"Frankly, I'm very proud of the product," he said.

"I think they're a new group that's become a force in the national environmental community, and is having an impact in Utah almost immediately," said Kenley Brunsdale, chairman of the Utah Roundtable of Sportsmen and Conservationists.

Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, added, "They're a very credible group in Washington." The trust has given information for a bill Owens intends to introduce, which would prompt a study of possible damage downstream from Glen Canyon Dam.

Dave Wegner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who is coordinating the bureau's Glen Canyon environmental studies, said of the trust, "They provide an opportunity to get the main issues associated with the management of all the resources associated with the Colorado River Plateau focused and put into proper perspective.

"The Grand Canyon Trust folks are a very credible group of people."

The San Rafael Swell in Emery County also has caught the interest of the Grand Canyon Trust.

The wonderful lands of the Colorado Plateau are part of ourselves, Norton contends. "Fifty years from now, these kinds of resources are going to be really scarce."

A recent $25,000 Ford Foundation grant will help the trust with its examination of conservation issues. The trust wants to use the grant in developing plans for the region, in which land preservation fits in well with the economic future.

"We have to be able to show as part of our case for managing this land for the future, that what we are going to propose offers to people an economic future," Norton said.

Last year, the trust's budget was $160,000, financed by foundation grants and individual donations. So far the group has about 800 members nationwide.

The organization is so new it hasn't yet reached out much in membership drives.

"We are just 2 years old," said Stewart Udall, former secretary of the interior and a director of the trust. "As of now, we're not a mass-membership organization. We're just turning in that direction."

A mass mailing was prepared recently. It's now being sent to 51,000 potential members in the Colorado Plateau states.

The letters and pamphlets point to ecological dangers facing the region and offer memberships at $15 each.

Norton said Americans should study the land we all own. "Look at what makes these lands special and unique, and manage them for those scarce values."

Norton said the trust's opposition has a great many people and huge resources and that the Grand Canyon Trust is part of a struggle that will take persistence, professionalism and endless staying power.

To protect the special land of the Colorado Plateau will take a heroic effort, he said.

For more than 10 years, some Utah conservationists have campaigned for designating the swell as a national park. Last month, following the trust's board meeting, both its president and founder said the swell deserves special protection.

"I am certainly not in favor of locking up the entire Colorado Plateau or putting the entire Colorado Plateau in wilderness," said Norton. "In some areas, grazing, timber cutting and mining are necessary."

"But you take a place like the San Rafael Swell _ where is a place like that in the world? This is the sort of place that we created the National Park System to protect."

Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona governor who founded the trust and a member of its board of directors, said parts of the plateau need more protection _ "the area around the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest in Arizona, the San Rafael Swell. I think we need to look at the boundaries of Canyonlands and Arches."

The country should "pay special attention to the Grand Gulch area in archaeological terms," Babbitt said.

Norton thinks Americans should manage the land for things that the private sector can't provide _ like solitude and spectacular untouched wild lands.

"The question is of finding the right future that provides for a wide range of interests and human values. That is a political process in the best sense of the word," he said.

Next: A hike through the Virgin Narrows with Bruce Babbitt.