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Not only are senior Americans among the world's most avid travelers, but many are also making the world a better place in which to travel. Travel heroes are working everywhere -- in small towns, inner cities and wilderness areas. Some have been at it their whole lives.

Here are three, but consider this a tribute to all of them.

Art Cooley

When Art Cooley, 62, retired in 1989 after 33 years as a public high school science teacher in Bellport, he didn't stop teaching.

"I just entered a different classroom," he says. He became an expedition leader and naturalist for the adventure-ship company Special Expeditions, based in Westfield, N.J.

Instead of taking teen-age students on outdoor field trips, he now tells inquiring travelers about the dolphins they've spotted off a South American coastline or leads them to a Shetland Islands cliff top inhabited by seabirds. He gives lectures and leads discussions on anything from the mating habits of marine mammals to science's role in public-policy issues.

In 1965, his impassioned lecture about the destruction of local wetlands before an adult night school class in Bellport led to the formation of a group of concerned citizens. Their early victories included the banning of DDT, which Cooley and four other scientists proved to be the culprit in the serious decline of such birds of prey as the osprey and bald eagle.

That local group grew into the national 300,000-member Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), in which scientists, economists, attorneys and others work to find solutions to environmental problems.

Cooley also has spearheaded Special Expeditions' involvement in a number of conservation efforts. In the Caribbean countries of St. Lucia and Dominica, for example, he persuaded the company to build and help maintain trails into the habitats of endangered parrots. In the first year the trails were open, hikers poured $160,000 in user fees into St. Lucia's coffers.

Special Expeditions, 720 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019; (800) 762-0003.

Marion Stoddart

Founding a travel company wasn't a life goal of Marion Stoddart, 68, in her early years. Raising her children came first -- that and saving the Nashua River that ran past the bottom of the hill below her Groton, Mass., home.

In the mid-1960s, the federal government classified the 56-mile river as too polluted to even receive sewage. Paper mills, cotton and wool plants, shoe manufacturers and other industries had been dumping their waste into the river for more than a century.

"This river stunk. It was vile," she says. "My vision was to have it beautiful again. The job was to get others to see this vision and convince them to play a part in having it happen."

Stoddart focused on economic as well as environmental benefits. She developed coalitions of manufacturers and other businesses, labor leaders, community officials and citizens that resulted in new laws, treatment plants and the establishment of a greenway buffer zone. Gradually, the river came alive again, clean enough for canoeing and fishing.

"I swam in it for the first time last year," she says. "It was a spiritual experience."

An Outward Bound course for older women prompted her to found her tour company, Outdoor Vacations for Women Over 40. On her trips, women canoe, snorkel, hike, bike, cross-country ski and participate in other outdoor activities worldwide, often for the first time.

Outdoor Vacations for Women Over 40, P.O. Box 200, Groton, Mass. 10450; (508) 448-3331.

Paul Stewart

When Paul Stewart, 70, played cowboys and Indians as a youngster, his white playmates insisted he had to be an Indian because everyone knew there were no black cowboys.

"That was all right, because my mother was part Cherokee and my great-grandfather was a Blackfoot," Stewart says.

During a visit to Denver in the early 1960s, Stewart saw his first black cowboy -- decked out in boots, chaps, spurs and a cowboy hat.

On the spot, he vowed to learn everything he could about blacks in the West. He moved from Evanston, Ill., to Denver, opened a barber shop and quizzed his customers about black pioneers. People began bringing him photographs and memorabilia of black homesteaders, entrepreneurs, soldiers, preachers, teachers, doctors, lawmen and outlaws.

From that evolved the Black American West Museum and Heritage Center in Denver, the foremost collection of historical items and oral histories of blacks in the West.

Stewart, who has written two books on the subject, also is a consultant to the Denver Public Schools. In classrooms and the museum, he holds children and adults spellbound with his tales of pioneer days, changing the way Americans look at the Wild West, where 25 percent of the cowboys were people of color.

Black American West Museum and Heritage Center, 3091 California St., Denver, Colo. 80205; (303) 292-2566.