Potomac resident Patrick Noonan, president for the past seven years of The Nature Conservancy, the nation's premier private land-conservation group, is one of two Maryland residents to win 1980 Department of Interior awards for outstanding contributions to conservation and recreation.

Baltimore's mayor, William Schaefer, also was cited for his efforts in revitalizing the city's downtown waterfront.

Under Noonan's leadership, the 29-year-old nonprofit agency founded in Washington now has acquired and preserved more than 1.2 million acres of land in the 50 states. It operates about one-third of the 2,000 properties it has acquired, and has donated or sold the rest to private nonprofit groups or federal, state and county governments for parks and nature preserves.

Noonan, 38, was the conservancy's full-time president from 1973 until April, when he resigned to work s a consultant and write the conservation group's history. A graduate of Gettysburg State College, Noonan received master's degrees in business from American University and city planning from Catholic University.

Also cited by Interior were top officials of two other national conservation groups with headquarters in the Washington area -- the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Recreation and Park Association.

Washington's most active preservation group, Don't Tear It Down, and the new Capital Children's Museum, behind Union Station, also won awards. So did the U.S. Forest Service and Alexandria resident Jeanette Fitzwilliams, president of the Virginia Trails Association. They were cited for their efforts to increase the number of hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails across the nation.

The awards from Interior Heritage, Conservation and Recreation Service went to 103 groups and citizens in 36 states and England.

Nature Conservancy also was honored by Interior last year for preserving some of Virginia's barrier islands. It has preserved thousands of acres of land in Maryland and Virginia, including Calvert County's Cyprus Swamp, land near Sugarloaf Mountain, and parts of St. Mary's City, where Maryland's first settlers landed. Last year it also gave 11 Potomac River islands opposite Seneca to the state of Maryland. The islands were donated to the group for public use in 1976 by Washington brewer Christian Heurich Jr. and his wife.

Don't Tear It Down was cited for helping save numerous Washington landmarks, including the old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Willard Hotel, several 19th-Century school buildings and Red Lion Row, the block of Victorian townhouses facing Pennsylvania Avenue in the 2000 block of I Street NW.

The Capital Children's Museum, created in 1977 and given a $1.7 million federal grant in 1978 to buy an entire city block at Third and H streets NW, was cited for its efforts in "one of the most depressed (areas) of the city," the award said.

The museum and its executive director, Ann Lewin, were praised for the "hands-on" approach that has been adopted. Lewin also was cited in her efforts in getting extensive private and foundation support for the museum.

Also receiving awards were Douglas P. Wheeler of Washington, former vice president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for his work in expanding the trust's activities; and Barry S. Tindall of Arlington, for his "behind the scenes" efforts with Nature Conservancy and the National Recreation and Park Association, of which he is public affairs director.