The skeletal staff is looking for other work. The part-time site administrator is retiring.

At Brandywine Battlefield - as at several other state-owned historical sites in Pennsylvania - "we are going from the frying pan into fire, from barely affording toilet paper to having none," said Linda Kaat, president of the battlefield's volunteer friends group.

But with budget cuts and layoffs looming, state officials are banking on volunteer corps such as Kaat's to keep places like Brandywine open.

That handoff moved closer to reality yesterday when the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission told its staff to finalize agreements with local groups to operate six of its more than 20 sites, Brandywine among them.

That number, based on cuts in Gov. Rendell's proposed budget, could grow if a leaner Republican plan prevails in the annual Harrisburg budgetary brawl.

"We don't have any intention of abandoning or boarding up these sites," said Barbara Franco, executive director of the commission. "On the other hand, we don't have the funds to operate the programs that these sites deserve and want."

At Brandywine, budget cuts will eliminate one full-time educator, a part-time secretary, and three part-time guides and leave a maintenance worker as the only full-time employee. Those cuts won't take place until a state budget is approved, Franco said.

Last month, a public hearing near the battlefield drew about 160 people concerned that the rolling, 52-acre site of the Revolutionary War's bloodiest battle might close. Hearings for five other endangered sites drew similar turnouts.

"Brandywine has a lot of faithful friends, so we are staying positive and feel that we will be able to keep the park open with volunteers and financial support from the public," Kaat said.

Her group, Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates, has more than 260 members. Last year they raised nearly $150,000 of the site's $385,000 operating budget and volunteered thousands of hours.

Donations continue to flow, Kaat said, "but it's going to take a serious grant or benefactor for a base of $200,000 or so to keep us operating full time."

Continuing the battlefield's summer camp and school group tours will be a priority, Kaat said. Depending on donations, she said, the park might have to close some days.

Only the operations, not the ownership or maintenance of the site, will be turned over to volunteers and to Chadds Ford Township.

"We may eventually see improved facilities," said State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D., Allegheny), a member of the commission. "Local people know more about setting operating hours and recruiting volunteers. As people get more involved, they take on a sense of ownership, and that can be a positive thing."

Rex L. Hughes, a longtime volunteer at Brandywine, echoed that hope.

State-set hours and regulations can be "somewhat prohibitive," Hughes said. "This will allow us to grow and expand our programming."

The commission also discussed plans to restore the visitor center at Washington Crossing Historic Park in Bucks County. The center had been threatened with closing because of the crumbling center.

Bids for a new center could be taken as early as fall, said State Rep. Scott Petri (R., Bucks), a commission member.

The state has committed more than $4 million for construction. Private groups must cover an expected shortfall of more than $1 million.

"I've had nobody come up and say they were ready to write a check for $1 million, but there have been offers of smaller amounts," Petri said. "More importantly, many volunteers have offered their time and talents."